The 'Must Not Do' List

The hyperliberal New York Times is as reliable as Old Faithful. Like the geyser, the Times spews forth energetically, and daily.  But unlike it, the Gray Lady’s emissions are consistently noxious, polluting the political environment with the most irresponsible liberal nostrums. 

For years, I have been pointing out the confluence of Times’ editorials and subsequent action by congressional liberals whose minds are barren of ideas.  Sunday’s editorial, “The Must-Do List” provides guidance for the Democrats who lack the courage to try to stop funding for the war but still want to score soundbites on the evening news.  The most heartfelt desire of these senators and congressmen is to appease the Michael Mooron wing of their party without taking responsibility for the consequences.  This isn’t a new low for the Times — the same paper that published, against the expressed wishes of the President of the United States —  some of our most closely held secrets.  But it is a useful guide for conservatives to what will soon emanate from John Murtha, Nancy Pelosi and their ilk. 

The Times’ “Must-Do List” is just a liberal guide to the Bush administration’s successes in the war with a supplement of flat-out falsehoods.  It compounds errors about the law and the facts with a blindness to America’s best interests that only the Sulzberger-Abramson-Dowd troika (the three people who actually run the Times) could assemble.  Point by point, here it is and why it’s comprehensively wrong.

The “Must-Do List” begins with what the Times calls, “three fundamental tasks.”  First, restore habeas corpus for terrorist prisoners.  Congress made clear that those captured on the battlefield, and elsewhere outside the United States, aren’t entitled to more than what prisoners of war were entitled to in World War II.  Moreover, because the administration is right in keeping these prisoners until the war is over — be that tomorrow or the year 2525 — the prisoners have no right to resort to American courts. 

Second, the Times says the NSA terrorist surveillance program must end, and all interceptions of communications between people in the U.S. and foreigners suspected of terrorist connections be authorized by court warrant.  Every court — with one recent and disreputable exception — has held that the President has inherent constitutional authority for gathering such electronic intelligence without court order. The Times ignores this, as we should ignore the Times. To do as the Times demands would shut off a pipeline of valuable intelligence being gathered legally.

Third, the Times says we should “ban torture, really.”  In the one correct statement in the entire editorial, the Times says, “The provisions in the Military Commissions Act that Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) trumpeted as a ban on torture are hardly that.” But it goes on to say that it is still largely up to the President to decide what torture is for the purpose of prosecuting anyone who breaks the rules. This is utterly false, and it was before McCain crafted his legislation.  Before the McCain Amendment, U.S. law — Title 18 US Code Section 2340 — made torture a felony and defined it clearly. The McCain Amendment confused the law and made its definitions less clear. If the Times were honest about the issue, which it is not, it would call for repeal of the McCain Amendment.

After these distasteful suggestions, the sommelier Times continues presenting proudly the liberals’ anti-war whine list.  It would close the CIA prisons and have American forces and intelligence agencies “account for ghost prisoners”, those held incognito without account to their home nations or families. According to the President and to Defense Department sources, there are no “ghost prisoners” at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  And if there are ghost prisoners at other places?  We should all hope there are, because the fact that some with actionable intelligence are in our custody — terrorist planners, fighters and others — is itself of intelligence value.  For us to disclose the fact that these people are in custody may — and usually does — destroy the value of the information they hold.  Terrorists can change their plans quickly, and the fact that we have someone who may know enough to help us thwart an attack or capture other terrorists (or both) is enough to spur those changes. 

The Times would have us ban “extraordinary rendition,” the practice of capturing terrorists in other nations and taking them to Guantanamo Bay or whatever secret CIA prisons may still be open after the Washington Post exposed some of them. Some nations of Europe and elsewhere are afraid to act openly against terrorists and cooperate with us by allowing us to capture people inside their borders. The Times apparently would rather these people remain free to operate against Americans.

The list goes on and on.  “Tighten the Definition of Combatant,” they say. But the Geneva Conventions define, by exclusion, illegal combatants with considerable and internationally-accepted precision. Unless Congress wants to rewrite the Conventions, and ask the President to renegotiate them with all the Geneva signatories, it can’t just tinker with them. “Screen prisoners fairly and effectively”, the Times says.  But the procedures we have in place — in Guantanamo Bay, where “combatant status review tribunals” meet to do precisely this — give prisoners the protections against improper attention that the Geneva Conventions require.  I know the people involved in supervising the tribunals.  They deserve our trust. The prisoners are not, under international law, entitled to more.

The rest isn’t even worth discussing.  The Times wants to tinker with the evidentiary rules for combatant status reviews and prisoners’ right to counsel in trial for crimes.  These may be proper subjects for congressional oversight.  But the trials haven’t yet begun, and there is no demonstrable problem with the current rules.  The Times, and Congress, will be able to observe trials that begin later this year.  Then, and only then, will there be facts on which to base a review.

The Times’ agenda seeks limitations on how we fight this war.  They go beyond U.S. and international law, and would unnecessarily constrain the President, our armed forces and our intelligence agencies. We need to innovate constantly to defeat the terrorists and the nations that support them.  Innovation means doing everything we can think of, within the bounds of the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, every day and every night.  Let the Times whine, and let those such as Sen. Richard Durbin (he who compared Guantanamo Bay to a Nazi camp) echo its demands.  These are things we must not do.