The United States must use all the necessary tools available to combat terrorism, including traditional court systems, Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson said to a packed auditorium at the Heritage Foundation in Washington Tuesday afternoon.
“There is danger in over-militarizing our approach to Al Qaeda and its affiliates. There is risk in permitting and expecting the U.S. military to extend its powerful reach into traditional areas typically reserved for civilian law enforcement in this country,” Johnson said. “The military cannot and should not be the only answer.”
Citing the controversies surrounding the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Johnson said overreaching military power can lead to litigation and result in national security setbacks.
Johnson, appointed as the Defense Department's top counsel in 2009, said the goal for the agency is to make military detention less controversial and to build a counterterrorism framework that is “legally sustainable and credible and that preserves every lawful tool” at the U.S.’ disposal.
At the same time, Johnson discouraged Congress from limiting the executive branch’s and the military’s counterterrorism options, explaining that it would make military detention “more controversial, not less.”
“We will oppose efforts to make military detention more controversial and restrict the executive branch’s flexibility to pursue our counterterrorism mission,” Johnson said. “The executive branch, regardless of the administration in power, needs the flexibility, case by case, to make well-informed decisions about the best way to capture, detain and bring to justice suspected terrorists. Congress must be careful not to micromanage.”
Ultimately, he said, the Pentagon needs to have the latitude to be able to do its job effectively.
“This should not be the order of things, but war is sometimes necessary in attaining peace,” Johnson said.