The Magazine

Rebrander in Chief

The Defense Department’s new man at Gitmo hits the reset button.

Oct 3, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 03 • By WILLY STERN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

I got in touch with Petraeus the night before he started his own new gig at the CIA to ask about Martins’s assignment at Guantánamo. Was the retired general too anxious about his upcoming nonuniformed life at Langley to discuss his former lawyer? Heck no. Here’s a short excerpt from our top spy’s meaty two-page email, which started by saying he “applauded” the decision to send Martins to Gitmo. “There is no one I know better prepared for this than Mark Martins. His background is uniquely situated to such a critical mission.” Petraeus added that Martins “believes in military commissions being responsible, effective institutions within our larger system of national security institutions. Extraordinary. Truly impressive.” 

Petraeus is not alone in his admiration. The official who pulled the strings behind the scenes to bring Martins into the chief prosecutor’s job was DoD general counsel Jeh Johnson, who says he “wanted somebody who (1) was a fantastic lawyer; (2) brought the right sense of values to Military Commissions reform and process; and (3) was a recognized superstar.” Explains Johnson, “Mark had all three. I didn’t want somebody who was necessarily after the most convictions but rather was focused on making Military Commissions a credible and sustainable process. Martins has instant credibility both at Harvard Law School and with the Washington Post.”

Even so, Martins will no doubt be hammered by those on the left who don’t think we’re at war and see terrorism as a criminal offense better handled by U.S. courts. And some of the 171 detainees at Gitmo have been locked up a very long time. He’ll also take shots from those on the right who​—​more reasonably​—​want to see a kill, capture, convict strategy and aren’t too concerned what squeamish editorial writers or European politicians opine about Gitmo.

This much is clear: Martins will have his hands full at Guantánamo. Republicans harp at the president. Bloomberg harps at Holder. Lefty lawyers harp at the U.S. military. Our allies harp at us. The ACLU harps at everybody. The media are only too happy to churn out stories portraying detainees as victims. Into this mess rides The Rebrander.

Here are a few highlights of what Martins terms the “lesser-known facts” about the military prosecutions. He’s spinning, but he’s got a legitimate yarn. Says Martins:

• The Military Commissions are grounded in positive law, including Congressional Acts in 2006 and 2009.

• They are an important part of the United States commitment to using all instruments of national power and authority to counter terror networks; I believe that we must continue to use all of the military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and economic tools at our disposal, selecting in each case the particular method that is most effective under the circumstances, consistent with our laws and values; military commissions and federal courts are both lawful and appropriate forums for trying crimes committed during this long conflict.

• As with federal courts, military commissions procedures incorporate fundamental protections designed to ensure fairness and justice​—​these include the presumption of innocence and the requirement that guilt be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

• Military commissions will feature new measures to ensure transparency, including a venue enabling victims and media to observe proceedings near-real-time in the continental United States (40-second delay to ensure safeguarding of national security information).

So what should these high-profile detainees expect from General Martins the prosecutor? Here’s what Petraeus anticipates: “An exceedingly competent chief prosecutor​—​a true legal expert with total integrity, unparalleled work ethic, broad experience.” 

To be clear, Martins doesn’t walk on water. His rule-of-law command has been accused in some quarters of being a ridiculous nation-building effort that is sorely out of touch with the true nature of the threat and with the financial woes of the United States. But such criticism hasn’t stuck to the Teflon general.

The smooth-tongued Martins has a lovely wit. A couple years back, he and I were bouncing over a dirt road in an up-armored vehicle outside the wire on the outskirts of Kabul. Martins remarked that working with journalists was like dancing with elephants​—​you just didn’t know when you might get squished. 

When his appointment to Gitmo was announced, Martins got some favorable coverage; I kidded him that he must have taken waltzing lessons. Martins responded, “I am not a waltzer (though I did like Just and Unjust Wars as well as Spheres of Justice), and I’d just as soon keep the pachyderms at a distance.” 

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers