President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, told conferees in a keynote address at HLS on Sept. 16 that the U.S. must not let down its guard in fighting terrorist organizations on a broad front.

Brennan’s remarks, “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws,” were delivered as part of a two-day conference on terrorism and national security, “Law, Security, and Liberty after 9/11: Looking to the Future,” hosted by the newly-inaugurated Harvard Law School-Brookings Project on Law and Security.

Brennan defended administration counterterrorism actions and practices, both internationally and domestically, and argued that all are guided by a policy that they be conducted within the rule of law.

“When we uphold the rule of law, governments around the world are more likely to provide us with the intelligence we need to disrupt ongoing plots,” he said. “They’re more likely to join us in taking swift and decisive action against terrorists and they’re more likely to turn over suspected terrorists who are plotting to attack us along with the evidence needed to prosecute them.”

Even with the death of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda still remains “the preeminent security threat to our nation,” Brennan said, and argued that the U.S. is justified in taking action against members of the network “without doing a separate self-defense analysis each and every time.”

However, that doesn’t mean that the U.S. is being overzealous in taking these actions, he said.

“(S)ome have suggested that we do not have a detention policy, that we prefer to kill suspected terrorists rather than capture them,” he said. “That is absurd.”

“I want to be very clear. Whenever it is possible to capture a suspected terrorist, it is the unqualified preference of this administration to take custody of that individual so we can obtain information that is vital for the safety and security of the American people.”

Brennan also criticized an article in that day’s (Sept. 16) New York Times, which reported that lawyers at the State Department and the Pentagon were locked in a debate over whether the U.S. should change its policy of targeting and killing only high-level militants to include low-level individuals known to be associated with terrorist groups.

Brennan characterized that debate as only theoretical. “What we have now within the U.S. government, at the insistence of the President, is that kind of discourse among the lawyers,” he said. “We want to hear all views and perspectives.”

The Times article was written by Charlie Savage, who was present at the conference and gave one of the other keynote addresses at the two-day event. Savage wrote a follow up story  [LINK] covering Brennan’s remarks and some of the issues discussed on the conference agenda.

Read full text of Brennan’s prepared remarks: “Strengthening our Security by Adhering to our Values and Laws,”

Brennan’s remarks were widely reported in the national and international media, bringing much attention to the debut of the new Harvard-Brookings Project on Law and Security. The project, established last month by co-directors Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution and Gabriella Blum of the Harvard Law School faculty, is devoted to the creation of high-impact, independent, policy-relevant work related to the many areas in which law constrains security options. It aims to bring serious-minded legal scholarship to bear on vexing and persistent questions of policy, and to inject real-world considerations and the realities of governance into academic discussions.

See the links below for some selected coverage:

The New York Times: “Obama Adviser Discusses Using Military on Terrorists”

Voice of America: Official: US Will Target Terrorists in Countries Unable or Unwilling to Act