Posted by Curt on 26 January, 2017 at 3:51 pm. 1 comment.


Andrew C. McCarthy:

One should not be surprised at the Media-Democrat complex’s attempt to manufacture a scandal over a draft executive order on the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants that the Trump White House refuses to avow. After all, nothing united the Left and fueled the Democratic political ascendancy of 2005 through 2009 like the anti-torture crusade. It had all the necessary elements of a successful campaign: outsized progressive indignation, the collusion of influential Republicans (especially John McCain, whose personal history imbued him with a moral authority that deflected the incoherence of his contentions), and an enfeebled Republican administration too exhausted and too worried about the press to defend itself effectively.

Factor in some of now-President Trump’s most outrageous statements on the campaign trail — such as suggesting that he would have the families of terrorists killed and would employ interrogation techniques harsher than waterboarding — and it became a ripe dead certainty that the Left would mobilize at the first hint of policy deliberations over the handling of captured terrorists.

For now, however, it is much ado about nothing.

At most, what we’re seeing is another iteration of a problem I alluded to Wednesday in addressing President Obama’s negotiations over the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership: the need for confidential deliberations versus the determination of the press (and of Democrats during any GOP administration) that there shall be no secrets.

The Trump administration has not yet announced a policy on the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants. Critics should hold their fire until that happens. The draft executive order is just that, a draft — even if we assume, based on reported indications from unidentified administration leakers, that it is part of the discussion in Trump’s national-security team.

It is not just a commonplace — it is an inevitability that major policy decisions and the memoranda that memorialize them go through numerous iterations before they are finalized. The Left’s tired playbook depicts all Republican presidents as imbeciles and their advisers as amateur hour. Thus, much is being made of the fact that the draft executive order gets the date of the 9/11 attacks wrong, placing them a decade after the fact, on September 11, 2011. Put aside that this mistake is clearly a typo. (I’ve done it myself a number of times; plus, the date of the 9/11 attacks is rendered correctly on page 2 of the document.) The error also occurs in the very first paragraph (near the beginning, on the fifth line). To a sensible, objective analyst, that would suggest that wherever this draft comes from, it must be a document produced very early in the deliberation process. It must not have been perused by too many people before the New York Times “obtained” it.

There is no reason to doubt that the Trump administration is working on a thoroughgoing review of detention and interrogation policy. It was a big issue in the campaign, and it is a critical issue for national security. That said, it is anything but clear that the draft before us is representative of what the final product will look like. Senator McCain could do a lot of good — not that I’m holding my breath — if he took a chill pill and calmly advised people to await the final product before going Code Red.

Secondly, even if the draft were representative of the new administration’s considered position, the tumult over it would be unwarranted. It explicitly acknowledges (again, on page 1) that Congress has enacted restrictions on interrogation techniques, codifying in federal statutory law a prohibition that confines tactics to those set forth in “the Army Filed [sic] Manual” — a prohibition that expressly forbids the use of “force.” The draft executive order asserts that this prohibition (inserted by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016) “provides a significant statutory barrier to the resumption of the CIA interrogation program” — i.e., the controversial program in the post-9/11 period of the Bush administration.

All of Trump’s actual executive orders to date have taken pains to state that the president’s directives are operative only to the extent permissible by law. There is nothing in the draft order that indicates an intention to attempt to supersede congressional statutes.

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