John McCain: Still against torture

Torture didn't lead us to bin Laden. Torture is still wrong. And torture is counterproductive. So says Sen. John McCain in a strong opinion piece in today's Washington Post.McCain debunks the assertions that waterboarding led directly to bin Laden, stating clearly that claims to that effect made by former attorney general Michael Mukasey are "false."

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 Ahmeds 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. 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-Kuwaitis real role in al-Qaeda and his true relationship to bin Laden was obtained through standard, noncoercive means.

As you are no doubt aware, McCain's authority to speak on this subject is grounded in more than just his access to intelligence.

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners 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.

He does not add that soliciting bad information is historically a goal, not an accidental side effect, of torture. You don't torture a person to get them to tell you the truth; you torture them to get them to tell you what you want to hear. That's how these techniques were developed, and it's another reason to reject them as part of a keep-America-safe campaign. But the best reason, McCain concludes, is that torture is immoral. "This is a moral debate. This is about who we are."I've been disappointed in McCain's lack of integrity in recent political debates over things like health-care reform, immigration reform, and foreign policy. So it's good to know that his opposition to torture is one principle he won't abandon. I hope he will keep speaking up, and I hope the administration is listening.UPDATE, 5/13: Greg Sargent reports that McCain took this argument to the Senate floor yesterday. I'm happy to see him calling out Mukasey by name (around 5:40 in the video below); Mukasey's Washington Post piece (to which McCain's responds) was shameful and full of misinformation. He should be ashamed and so should the Washington Post. Here's the video:

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

Also by this author
April 9 issue, now online

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Religion
Culture
Books
Collections