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

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14 Comments

  1. I respect McCain’s opinions on this subject.

  2. Good points all Dorian. I agree that my Senator [sic] is to be commended for his comments and position here.
    ­
    Mr. McCain has also done a fine job of proving that a broken clock is right twice a day.

  3. I’ve done my share of criticizing John McCain, but he truly is the voice of reason on this subject. The rest of his tribe would do well to take notice and defer to his greater wisdom (and credibility) in this regard. By the way, does anyone know how many times John Yoo was waterboarded? None you say? Well who’d a thunk it.

  4. “By the way, does anyone know how many times John Yoo was waterboarded?”

    I believe once, when boarding a water taxi in Bangkok

    Sorry, I know, we shouldn’t be joking around with such a serious matter. Oh well…

  5. After the last Presidential election I had enough of Sen. McCain. Like most here, I too am glad he’s bringing up this issue. The Neoconservatives need to be held accountable for their flawed and criminal support and participation in torture. I’ve read a number of such examples, such as the one above, illustrating how getting actionable intelligence is best without these horrible torture techniques.

    What ticks me off is that nobody in the former administration has been held accountable. John Woo has a nice teaching gig and tries to CYA with regards to his lousy legal advise given to the Bush administration. I’d really would have liked to have seen these people prosecuted to the full extent of the law. They have so polluted the soul of this country with their “enhanced interrogation techniques!”

    Further more, I’m distressed by a lot of conservatives who have no issue as to what was being done in the name of national security! Clearly torture is a horrible tactic to obtain actionable intelligence. Abortion is at the top of their social issues list, but they give a pass on the torture of fellow human beings under the watch of the US government. I find this to be hypocritical. And Catholics like former Sen. Rick Santorum have the gall to support such tactics when his church has condemned such actions.

    Andrew Sullivan’s “The Daily Dish” web blog has been instrumental in providing the horrific details of the failed torturous policies of the Bush administration. At least there are some conservatives who are actively speaking out about this.

    Finally, I would hope some sort of investigation will be conducted to expose these lies by those in the right wing who so admittedly support torture technique. Perhaps what’s not talked about here is all the other techniques (improper uses of K9 military working dogs, stress positions, abuse of detainees, etc.) It is time for America to come to grips with what we are responsible for.

  6. IndyGuy:”What ticks me off is that nobody in the former administration has been held accountable. John Woo has a nice teaching gig and tries to CYA with regards to his lousy legal advise given to the Bush administration.”
    ————
    Holding people accountable isn’t in fashion anymore. Obama announced “I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”, which clearly meant that he was giving the previous administration a blanket pass.

    Then there’s the people that committed fraud for the sub-prime debacle. The Bush people let them do it; Obama’s people apparently gave them a pass also. I certainly haven’t heard of any cases being prosecuted.

    It looks like some people really are above the law.

  7. Thanks for your comments, IndyGuy.

    As I said, the prosecution of “those who approved or employed ‘these techniques’ [is] a debatable issue” as you have so well illustrated.

    I have some mixed feelings on this, wanting at least some investigations and exposures to prevent future occurrences, and perhaps even prosecution of those who authorized/ordered this travesty.

  8. Of course, if you are John McCain, you know all this praise is worth a bucket of warm spit. As soon as he holds any issue that the same people disagree with, many of them will jump back to say what an evil troll his is with no hesitation.

    Which of course brings up a point, in the current climate, the lack of rewards for principled stands (or penalties for just being opportunistic) because everything is about the partisan “side”. Stands on principal are forgotten as soon as the partisan winds change or dismissed since being “wrong” on the next issue is proof that one was a bad person after all (or has changed into a bad person).

  9. davidpsummers says: “Of course, if you are John McCain, you know all this praise is worth a bucket of warm spit. As soon as he holds any issue that the same people disagree with, many of them will jump back to say what an evil troll his is with no hesitation.”

    A typical (and expected) response from the right… It’s how they have to react since it is impossible for them to give credit to anyone who isn’t on their “side.”

    They’re at a loss at how to react when the left praises a member of the right.

    Thanks for the perfect example of right-wing partisanship.

    EDIT TO ADD: David does deserve some credit… others on the right side of the TMV room tend to be busy elsewhere when a thread like this comes along. :o

  10. Steve:

    Good point.

    At least the post (and this author) gives credit when credit is due, unlike some who can never—repeat, never—give credit to the “opposition,” no matter how much they would have applauded the same action or words had it/they come from someone “on their side.”

  11. davidpsummers says: “Of course, if you are John McCain, you know all this praise is worth a bucket of warm spit. As soon as he holds any issue that the same people disagree with, many of them will jump back to say what an evil troll his is with no hesitation.”

    A typical (and expected) response from the right… It’s how they have to react since it is impossible for them to give credit to anyone who isn’t on their “side.”

    They’re at a loss at how to react when the left praises a member of the right.

    Thanks for the perfect example of right-wing partisanship.

    EDIT TO ADD: David does deserve some credit… others on the right side of the TMV room tend to be busy elsewhere when a thread like this comes along. :o

    Oh, I give McCain a lot of credit. He has taken a principled stand that will alienated himself from Republicans and lead to him being called a RINO again. I’m just fed up with people who cheer this as if they are supporting independent action when I know that when it really matters many of them will just switch back to partisan attacks.

    Actually, this is a problem for centrists. Partisans on the right (and left) can be expected to just follow the partisan view of what is right and wrong and don’t have to worry about what it means if they stick with principal. They will get their partisan support and fight their endless war with the other side to push it. In spite of all the claims on both sides that they want to rise above partisanship, they are really only for it when it floats their own boat.

    But of course the irony that this view would be characterized as partisan is pretty par for the course when charges of partisanship are used for partisan attacks and each side tries to make sure that anyone who isn’t on their “side” must be considered as being on the “other side”

  12. Good on you Senator McCain. As much as it hurts me that this country even has to have a debate about this issue, I’m glad there are heavyweights who can articulate clearly to the morons that think torture is ok why its wrong. Not that it will do any good.

  13. As I said here torture does not work and as the linked post says I do have some experience. Torture is good for one thing – false confessions and that’s always what it’s been used for. John McCain knows that.
    It is good for one other thing – the need for revenge.

  14. David P. Summers wrote:

    > I’m just fed up with people who cheer this as if they are
    > supporting independent action when I know that when it really
    > matters many of them will just switch back to partisan attacks.

    [shrug]

    They’re the same people who currently are the suddenly warmongering, sovereignty-ignoring nearly-jingoistic, Obama fans (regarding the military operation that killed bin Laden).

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