Senator McCain's mindless support for President Bush in the aftermath of the 2000 election is one of the stranger things I've seen over the past seven years. He seems to find his old form in the debate over waterboarding and torture. His response to Mitt Romney's assertion that criminals like the terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed should just tortured and locked up in a CIA prison without due process is below:
Well, then you would have to advocate that we withdraw from the Geneva Conventions, which were for the treatment of people who were held prisoners, whether they be illegal combatants or regular prisoners of war. Because it's clear the definition of torture. It's in violation of laws we have passed. And again, I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not "24" and Jack Bauer. Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective. And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The Army general there said that techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn't think they need to do anything else. My friends, this is what America is all about. This is a defining issue and, clearly, we should be able, if we want to be commander in chief of the U.S. Armed Forces, to take a definite and positive position on, and that is, we will never allow torture to take place in the United States of America.
Romney seems to get his advice on what is or isn't torture from Cofer Black, a former CIA officer who led the Counterterror Center from 1999-2002, and was later criticized for not telling the FBI that two of the September 11th terrorists had entered the United States after being identified in Afghanistan. Although Romney claims to get his advice from "former Generals", Black was not a General. He is now Vice Chairman of Blackwater and Romney's counter-terror guy. The interesting thing is that military and intelligence people generally argue that torture is counter-productive in that when people break, they will tell the interrogators anything to get the pain to stop. How much "evidence" or "intelligence" gathered this way is the ravings of someone desperate to get a torturer to stop?
John McCain is in a position to understand this, as his North Vietnamese captors used the method most debated these days to torture Senator McCain. He sees torture, quite correctly, as a moral and pragmatic issue. Not only do we lose the moral high ground by allowing people to conduct torture in our name, but we become our enemy. You can't criticize insurgents for beheading someone or dragging them through the streets when the world knows very well that you are breaking both your own and international laws by torturing prisoners. It also releases all of your current and future enemies from any constraints they might operate under when they capture your personnel. Our use of torture means that we can't insist that our people be treated properly when captured.
Like Senator McCain, I see torture as a defining issue for our nation. Do we torture, or not? Do we obey the law, or not? Are we civilized, or not? Do we stand for our ideals, or not?