Moral Low Ground

US Government

John McCain: Torture did not Lead to Osama bin Laden

Senator John McCain asserted that waterboarding and other torture techniques utilized by the United States in the War on Terror did not lead to Osama bin Laden as many conservatives claim. The senior Senator from Arizona, a Republican, delivered an impassioned speech on the Senate floor yesterday in which he rejected claims by former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey and other pro-torture conservatives who say torturing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by, amongst other things, waterboarding him 183 times gleaned valuable information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan hideout.

According to the Associated Press, Senator McCain was informed by CIA director Leon Panetta that the hunt for bin Laden did not begin with information tortured out of Mohammed. “Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information,” McCain said, calling on Mukasey to come clean with the truth.

For his part, Mukasey, who was former President George W. Bush’s last attorney general, said McCain was “simply incorrect” and insisted that Mohammed did spill the name of bin Laden’s courier “along with a wealth of other information, some of which was used to stop terror plots then in progress.”

“Harsh interrogation techniques were both efficient and lawful,” Mukasey insisted, although both international and domestic law prohibit torture.

As Moral Low Ground reported last week, there was much self-congratulatory, chest-puffing told-ya-so-ism in the immediate aftermath of the bin Laden assassination by Republicans who claimed it couldn’t have come to that ending without torture. “Osama bin Laden would not have been captured and killed if it were not for the initial information we got from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he was waterboarded,” asserted Rep. Peter King (R-NY). Former top Bush adviser Karl Rove said “I think the odds the tools that President Bush put into place– GITMO, rendition, enhanced interrogation… obviously served his successor quite well.” “Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?” asked a smug Rep. Steve King (R-IA).

Senator McCain knows a thing or two about torture. He was a 31-year-old Navy fighter pilot during the Vietnam war when his A4 jet was shot down over North Vietnam on a bombing run. He managed to eject from his doomed plane, breaking both arms and a knee in the process. He was viciously assaulted as he was captured; attacking North Vietnamese broke his shoulder and stabbed him in the ankle and groin with a bayonet. Lieutenant Commander McCain was imprisoned in the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison, badly beaten and left to die. He was so completely broken that he could do nothing but lay in his own vomit and excrement as he waited on death’s doorstep for the end. The young pilot spent years in solitary confinement. His weight dropped to around a hundred pounds. Torture was his constant companion–a broken rib or three here, some broken teeth there, another broken arm later on– and his despair grew so overwhelming that he repeatedly tried to kill himself. This was John McCain’s life for five and a half years.

McCain broke ranks with his torture-happy Republican colleagues early during the Bush era, most of whom wouldn’t even admit that waterboarding was torture. “Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure,” he asserted. “It is a horrible torture technique… and should never be condoned in the U.S.. We are a better nation than that.”

But, incredibly, when Congress banned waterboarding, McCain voted against the bill. He explained that he didn’t want to limit the President’s options in wartime. The Arizona senator went so far as to urge Bush to veto the anti-torture law, and that’s exactly what the President did.

Now McCain appears to be against torture again. “I do not believe they [enhanced interrogation techniques] are necessary to our success in our war against terrorists, as the advocates of these techniques claim they are,” he said. “Ultimately, this is about morality. What is at stake here is the very idea of America — the America whose values have inspired the world and instilled in the hearts of its citizens the certainty that, no matter how hard we fight, no matter how dangerous our adversary, in the course of vanquishing our enemies we do not compromise our deepest values,” he said. “We are America, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard. That is what is really at stake.”

According to the Associated Press, McCain’s stance was applauded by some Democrats. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois thanked him for his leadership.

“No one else in the Senate could have given this speech,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. “He speaks with personal knowledge. He still remembers the most dark nights when he tried to rest, when he was tortured brutally.”

"We are America, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard." (Photo: Dan Bennett)

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