Eric Posner: "The War on Terror Will Be Ever With Us"

The War on Terror Will Be Ever With Us

In a recent speech that generated some excited chatter in the blogosphere, Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's chief lawyer, hinted that the armed conflict with al-Qaida may be coming to an end:

I do believe that on the present course, there will come a tipping point—a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaida and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, such that al-Qaida as we know it, … has been effectively destroyed. At that point, we must be able to say to ourselves that our efforts should no longer be considered an “armed conflict” against al-Qaida.

The rose-colored-glasses perspective on this is as follows. The president obtained authority to wage war against al-Qaida from a statute called the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress enacted shortly after 9/11. The AUMF triggered the president's commander-in-chief power, which enables him to detain enemy combatants indefinitely and kill them with drones and other weapons. If the conflict with al-Qaida ends, then the president loses these authorities, must release or try detainees at Guantánamo Bay, and must stop using drones to kill people. Counterterrorism will go back to the domain of law enforcement, where it resided before 9/11. As Johnson himself notes, this means that terrorism will be handled by the police, and be governed by law enforcement norms—including Miranda warnings, search warrants, charges, trials, prison sentences, and all the other features of civilian due process. Civil liberties would awaken from its 11-year slumber.

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