Republican Arizona Senator John McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has long opposed the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques employed by the U.S. in the War on Terror. He is now railing against apologists for those techniques, mostly on the right, who have seized on the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of Navy SEALS to assert that it was torture that delivered the intelligence that made the SEALS’ mission to hunt down bin Laden successful.
McCain wrote a measured heartfelt op-ed for the Washington Post this morning and then delivered a passionate anti-torture and anti-torture-propaganda speech on the floor of the senate this afternoon.
From the op-ed:
I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: 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.
In fact, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information.
As we debate how the United States can best influence the course of the Arab Spring, can’t we all agree that the most obvious thing we can do is stand as an example of a nation that holds an individual’s human rights as superior to the will of the majority or the wishes of government? Individuals might forfeit their life as punishment for breaking laws, but even then, as recognized in our Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, they are still entitled to respect for their basic human dignity, even if they have denied that respect to others.
All of these arguments have the force of right, but they are beside the most important point. Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.
I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.
From Capitol Hill (he gets going at around the 5:40 mark):
McCain may be derided by the tea party right for what has been characterized as his tepid conservativism but he speaks with authority on torture and he has better access to information about the mission to kill bin Laden and the interrogations of captured members of al Qaida than do Fox News talking heads and the bloggers at RedState.