Harper’s Thomas Frank Lays Down Some Markers; Journalist Jess Bravin Takes a Close Look at Gitmo’s Military Commissions

by Peter B. Collins on March 20, 2013

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Tom Frank returns for a frank and useful chat about a range of topics, from Iraq to gun control to frequently abused cliches in the media;  Jess Bravin, a lawyer and Wall Street Journal Supreme Court reporter, discusses his new book about military commissions.Frank is a repeat offender here, and returns for a free-wheeling chat that covers Bush’s blunders in Iraq, the risk of war with Iran, our “Star Wars” missile defense system, and the threats from North Korea’s new bully-boy leader.  Along the way, we manage to touch on his books, like What’s the Matter With Kansas and Pity the Billionaire.

And we get around to the subject of his April column in Harper’s, which was triggered by his annoyance at pundits and reporters who use cliches like “I would argue…”, “lay down a marker”, and “eviscerate”.

At 45 minutes in, we are joined by Bravin, author of The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay.  The books details the legal origins of the military tribunals set up under the Bush administration, and the struggles of one prosecutor, Col. Stu Couch, over trying often-flimsy cases with evidence derived from torture.  Bravin is a law graduate who covers the Supreme Court for the Wall Street Journal, and offers legal insights that are accessible to non-lawyers.  We open with his comments on the recent decisions to try bin Laden’s son-in-law, Abu Ghaith, in federal court and to hold him on US soil, despite objections from members of Congress; on the timing of this move with the confirmation process for CIA chief John Brennan; on the hunger strike currently in progress at Gitmo; and the prospects for trial or release of 80 prisoners who have not been cleared, or charged with any crime.

Bravin’s book concludes that the military commissions that PBC derides as “kangaroo court” and producing “show trials”  are, in the author’s words, “the legal equivalent of a war of choice”.  Yet he takes pains to balance some of the critical characterizations with interesting comments about the process and outcomes (to date) of the commissions, which he describes as an “experiment”.

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