Torture: John McCain is Exactly Right on this One

I do not usually agree with Senator John McCain. In fact, most of my past articles on the Senator from Arizona reflect my dislike for many of his policies and decisions: His obstinate opposition to ending “don’t ask, don’t tell;” his equally obstinate support of the Iraq war; his disappointing posturing on the new GI Bill of Rights during the Bush administration; his silly pick of Sarah Palin to be his running mate—and the list goes on.

However, John McCain deserves credit for his consistent, principled stand on some very important issues.

One of these is his position on the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or in straightforward language, torture.

So, as his GOP colleagues doggedly continue to defend these uncivilized, un-American “techniques” and baselessly attribute the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden to torture, John McCain has the moral fortitude to tell it like it is.

In a recent Washington Post column, McCain immediately places waterboarding, and torture, in their proper legal and moral place:

Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.

After arguing for non-prosecution of those who approved or employed “these techniques” (a debatable issue, I am sure), McCain minces no words in discrediting reports that “the intelligence that led to bin Laden … began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information — including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.”

“That is false,” McCain says.

CIA Director Leon Panetta told McCain that

… the trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.

McCain says that in fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information:

He specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator — none of which was true. According to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden — was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.

And McCain should know all about torture. The victim of some of the most brutal torture by the North Vietnamese, McCain says that torture “sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.”

Furthermore,

Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops, who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and al-Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more conventional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.

He concludes by reiterating what so many have already said about torture, the torture debate is a moral one, “It is about who we are… we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.”

Many Americans, including this writer, have had, and probably will continue to have, political and philosophical differences with Mr. McCain. But on this issue I salute him and thank him.

Author: DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist