McCain steps up on torture

For all of the many disappointments associated with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over the last several years, it’s heartening to see him step up in condemning torture. The principal Republican talking point last week, the wake of Osama bin Laden’s demise, was that Bush-era torture policies were responsible, which makes the Obama administration — the folks who actually killed the al Qaeda leader — on the wrong side of the policy.

In a Washington Post op-ed, McCain rejects his party’s favorite argument.

Osama bin Laden’s welcome death has ignited debate over whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used on enemy prisoners were instrumental in locating bin Laden, and whether they are a justifiable means for gathering intelligence.

Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.

Of particular interest, McCain notes comments made by Bush’s former attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who claimed waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced the first grain of intelligence that got the OBL ball rolling. The senator set the record straight, calling Mukasey’s claim “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 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.

McCain followed this up this morning, with a 20-minute speech on the Senate floor, condemning torture, and explaining that the “debate,” such as it is, is fundamentally “about morality. What is at stake here it the very idea of America.”

Good for him.

I’ll look forward to Liz Cheney questioning his patriotism.