Marc Thiessen questions Bob McDonnell’s national security credentials

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Over at the Washington Post, opinion writer Marc Thiessen is arguing that Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R-Va.) failure to veto a recent law challenging the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) “could also have implications for his vice presidential aspirations.”

Thiessen writes,

… McDonnell’s national security credentials have come into question, thanks to his mishandling of a bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly that disassociates the commonwealth from the military detention of al-Qaeda or its terrorist affiliates who happen to be U.S. citizens. The bill, HB 1160, would effectively bar Virginia state troopers from arresting a terrorist like Anwar al-Awlaki if they knew he would be put in military detention. McDonnell didn’t raise a finger to stop this odious legislation as it made its way through the Virginia legislature.

Of course, this is much more complex than the Manichean view presented by Thiessen. al-Awlaki was an American. He was killed in Yemen, but had he been arrested in America, would his rights as a citizen have been dismissed? This, of course, raises all sorts of ethical questions — even among hawks who generally agree that being tough on terrorism is correct. For example, do we want the state to have the power to indefinitely detain American citizens?

The alternate viewpoint to Thiessen’s — in my opinion, not an illegitimate argument — was expressed by the bill’s patron, Delegate Bob Marshall:

The writ of Habeas Corpus in our Constitution (Article 1, Section 9) is what separates America from dictatorships around the world.  Giving anyone the unfettered power to “detain” American citizens without trial, counsel, specific charges, or a public record of such proceedings is unwise, imprudent and at fundamental odds with the assumptions of our government and legal traditions.

This story certainly deserves more attention than it garnered yesterday. Still, I doubt this is the death knell for McDonnell’s veep ambitions (though, as Thiessen notes, he has other problems). More importantly, though, I think the fact that someone thought this law was necessary proves this debate is far from over.

Civil liberties activists have made a huge deal of the provisions within the NDAA that permit indefinite detention of American citizens. Thiessen, apparently, thinks habeas corpus (the right enshrined in Article 1 of our Constitution) can be suspended indefinitely by just declaring our nation to be in a state of permanent war.

Maybe terrorism is different? But if Thiessen thinks that’s the case, he’s free to encourage an amendment to our Constitution. Until that point, it’s quite clear that McDonnell should be praised, not excoriated, for Virginia’s leadership among the states in defending our Constitution.

UPDATE: Marc Thiessen has posted a response to this piece at the American Enterprise Institute’s blog.

Matt K. Lewis