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Stop sending mixed messages on torture

One of the applause lines of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was his suggestion that he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

Trump later drew back to some degree from that sickening suggestion, but the idea that his administration might subject suspected terrorists to torture keeps resurfacing.

It was reported that a draft executive order is circulating that contemplates modifications in interrogation practices and implies that limits in current law are too restrictive. Equally ominous, the document also floats the idea of re-establishing overseas detention centers operated by the CIA at which “high-value alien terrorists” would be interrogated outside the reach of U.S. law.

Barack Obama ordered the closing of such “black sites” shortly after he took office in 2009. At the same time Obama ordered CIA interrogators to abide by the standards of the Army Field Manual, which prohibited waterboarding and other inhumane interrogation methods. Congress later wrote that requirement into federal law.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the proposed executive order was “not a White House document.” But The New York Times quoted three administration officials who said it had circulated among staff members of the National Security Council.

Meanwhile, Trump told an interviewer for ABC News that he has spoken to intelligence experts who were “big believers” in waterboarding. Not only that: He said he had asked people at the highest levels of intelligence: “‘Does torture work?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”

To be fair, Trump said that he would defer — for now anyway — to Secretary of Defense James Mattis “who said he’s not a believer in torture.” The president added that “I want to do everything within the bounds of what you’re allowed to do legally.”

The problem is that those legal boundaries could change. Torture is not a subject on which the administration can afford to send mixed signals.

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 27

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The Gorsuch nomination proves partisanship pays

In September 1986, a Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate confirmed Antonin Scalia, President Ronald Reagan’s nominee to the Supreme Court, by a vote of 98-0. Until his death nearly a year ago, Scalia was the court’s conservative lion. The process of replacing him has demonstrated how thoroughly the disease of blind partisanship has infected America. It’s got to stop somewhere.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump nominated Neil McGill Gorsuch, 49, to fill Scalia’s seat. Gorsuch has impeccable legal credentials, but then, so did Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated for the same seat last year. Garland never came close to getting a confirmation hearing, much less a confirmation vote. Some Republican senators wouldn’t even let him in their offices.

Senate Democrats must decide if they want to play the same nasty game with Gorsuch. If they employ the filibuster, Democrats can derail confirmation proceedings. But Republicans hold the majority. Though it might eventually backfire on him, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could invoke the “nuclear option” of eliminating the 60-vote cloture rule.

Democrats could fight like Texans at the Alamo but to the same end. Absent some unforeseen bombshell, Gorsuch would surely be confirmed.

Nonetheless, some Senate Democrats want a fight, urged on by supporters alarmed at Gorsuch’s legal philosophy, angry at Garland’s mistreatment and furious that Trump, who lost the popular vote, gets to mold the Supreme Court. But you don’t bring a knife to a GOP gunfight.

Gorsuch’s record suggests he is a more conservative version of Scalia, likely to favor corporate rights over workers’ rights, hostile to reproductive rights, in favor of the legalized bribery that is the campaign finance system.

But he is, by all accounts, an eminently qualified jurist and, like Scalia, a brilliant writer.

Senate decorum and respect started to erode the year after Scalia’s confirmation, when Democrats savaged Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork. Reagan sent them Anthony M. Kennedy instead. Kennedy, who generally votes with conservatives, has nonetheless cast important votes upholding reproductive rights and gay marriage. At 80, Kennedy is said to be considering retirement; Democrats might want to delay provoking the nuclear option for that event.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 2

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