John McCain demolishes the Bush-era torture apologists

First, former Bush attorney general Michael B. Mukasey tried to claim in the Wall St. Journal that the success in getting Osama bin Laden vindicates the Bush-era policy on torturing detainees.  Then, John McCain wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post attacking the torture apologists’ claims line by line and showing how it was invariably standard, non-coercive interrogation that produced the intel breakthroughs and torture that produced false testimony and wild goose chases.   McCain wrote:

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.

Now, as the Post’s Greg Sargent reports, McCain has taken the fight to the Senate floor.  Here is part of what McCain said:

“I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, 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 Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’

Mukasey et al take a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to torture, as if there is no cost to employing it so even the slightest glimmer of a gain is worth chasing.  But there is an enormous cost to torture, one that McCain knows firsthand.  He closes his op-ed with a reminder that this is a moral argument about who we aspire to be as a people:

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.

Update (16 May): The Post ran a fact check of the Mukasey vs. McCain debate on torture, concluding that Mukasey had carefully worded his initial claim about the intel gained by torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to insinuate that it was crucial to getting Osama bin Laden while not actually stating that; it was this insinuation that McCain was attacking as false.  This constitutes the most damning judgment of all: the entire Bush era was marked by the use of false insinuation to justify appalling policies of real consequence.



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