That’s how radio talk show host and law professor Hugh Hewitt has been describing Senator McCain for years.
Tuesday, Senator Feinstein finally saw the release of her Majority Views “Torture” Report. Absent from the 5 year investigation is any participation from Republicans who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee. They perceived the Feinstein investigation as a partisan exercise. So what we’re left with, absent the Minority Views Report, is a non-bipartisan (re: partisan), $40 million investigation tinted and tainted by a Democrat’s worldview lens in interpreting the information they used to draw up the Report.
Senator Feinstein spoke yesterday on the Senate floor for an hour defending her tortured Report. She was joined by Senator McCain:
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a former GOP presidential nominee and prisoner of war who was tortured in North Vietnam, rose to Feinstein’s defense Tuesday in opposition to his own party, citing “personal knowledge of torture’s inefficacy.”
McCain said the report’s release reminds the country that “we are always American, different, and better than those who would destroy us.”
As a former Vietnam POW, who experienced brutal treatment and real torture at the hands of his captives, McCain’s words carry weight and influence with most mainstream Americans:
In a nearly 15-minute speech from the Senate floor, McCain offered what is arguably the most robust defense so far of the report’s release, referencing his own experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and rebuking his Republican colleagues by endorsing the study’s findings.
most poignantly, McCain spoke of his own five-and-a-half-year captivity in Vietnam to argue that torture fails to yield credible information.
“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.”
I’m sorry, but with all due respect to the great American, lousy senator, and terrible Republican, Senator McCain reveals his lack of understanding in the role EITs played in CIA interrogations. “Torture”, if you will, was not applied in order to illicit law enforcement confessions or extract information. Questions were not asked during an enhanced interrogation session that the CIA did not already know the answers to. EITs were meant to bring about a state of cooperation, after which the real mining for intelligence information would begin during debriefing.
McCain added (emphatically) that “the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.”
Basic human rights? OK. Signatory or not to the GCs, everyone has basic rights. What captured terrorists don’t deserve, however, is the kind of protections afforded to lawful, uniformed soldiers. Why not? Because to grant terrorists POW status is to undermine part of the purpose of the GCs, which is to protect innocent civilians.
The GCs give maximum protection to non-combatants- innocent civilians. The next level of protection is afforded to fighters who obey the laws of war. The least amount of protection is given to those fighters who do not obey the rules. The GCs operates on an incentive system. Giving terrorists the same privileges as that of lawful soldiers removes the incentive not to blend in with an innocent civilian populace, putting civilians at greater risk of being harmed.
I had written previously on McCain’s hallowed status as a Vietnam POW, when he used it as an aegis in delivering a 2011 op-ed, criticizing EITs as amounting to “torture”. Back then, I wrote:
John McCain is intimately familiar with torture, having endured it at the hands of his Vietnamese captors during his years as a POW.
But he was never waterboarded. Not by the Spanish Inquisition. Not by the Japanese military. Not by the restrictive nature of the program as run by our CIA. And to be clear, he was tortured not to extract information that might save lives; he was tortured out of cruelty for torture’s sake; and he was tortured to elicit a false confession for propaganda purposes. EITs are not used to obtain either confessions or information.
Nor was McCain ever an interrogator. Not in the FBI. Not in the military. Not in the CIA.
Yet McCain, like “Matthew Alexander” (Anthony Camarino), commands “authority” and respect on the topic matter because of their respective experiences.
The CIA interrogators involved in the program that used EITs on 30 out of 100 high value detainees that came into their hands (the other 2/3rds having received standard interrogation practices) are not at liberty to write books nor defend themselves from slander and distortions in the media; nor are they free to counter Alexander’s testimony that comes buttressed with credible experience as a successful military interrogator.
Since the release of the Feinstein Report, I now know the number to be 119 HVDs. Apparently, the number of detainees who experienced EITs is more than 30, as well.
In Marc Thiessen’s book, Courting Disaster, the former Bush speech writer does a great job at trying to rectify the misperceptions and distortions regarding the nature of the CIA program that has been so relentlessly villified.
In one chapter (read pages 158-164), Thiessen also includes the opinions of 3 distinguished former Vietnam POWs to counteract the opinion of John McCain.
George Everett Day, Leo Thorsness, Jeremiah Denton are highly decorated war veterans and former POWs who experienced terrible torture at the hands of their captors. They scoff at the notion that what the CIA subjected their detainees to, up to and including waterboarding, even remotely amounts to their definition of torture.
I think Republicans and those who feel the CIA acted in good faith, and who acted honorably to defend our country, and who perceive the Majority Views Report as a politically partisan investigation, should still take the information within the Report seriously. We on the right do ourselves a disservice to dismiss outright the findings in the Feinstein Report. Stories like this one are sad. Of course, mistakes are made, as in all wars. And we should own up to them, where they occur. I have a difficult time, however, believing that we owe ourselves and the world any kind of apology, however, for the overall CIA program. As Noah Rothman points out:
There are aspects of the Senate Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SPSCI) report on the CIA’s Bush-era enhanced interrogation techniques and their efficacy that are unequivocally disturbing. The report alleges wrongful deaths at the hands of CIA operators, the detention and mistreatment of innocent people, and elaborate physical punishments inflicted on terror suspects resulting in lasting ailments.
Some of these practices and certainly the allegation that the CIA intentionally misled those responsible for its oversight are deeply disturbing. War, however, is hell, and America was and remains engaged in a war in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. in which nearly 3,000 innocent civilians were killed.
It is a war that took the lives of 169 Americans, Swedes, Danes, Britons, Indonesians and Australians when Jemaah Islamiyah attacked a tourist attraction in Bali in 2002. It is a war that spread to Spain in March of 2004 when al-Qaeda operatives killed 191 and wounded 1,800 more when they detonated a series of explosives onboard a Madrid commuter train. In 2005, the war engulfed London when a terror attack on buses and subway cars killed 52 civilians and wounded 700 more. It was a war that involved tens of thousands of Western soldiers fighting on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands of those troops gave their lives in the effort to ensure that those who would execute similar attacks on Western targets never had the opportunity to leave that volatile region.
Noting the realities above is not designed to either excuse or explain the excesses in which the CIA is accused of engaging, but merely to provide some of the context which has been lost in all the moral posturing over the SPSCI’s report. It is possible to be both outraged over the claim that the nation’s intelligence agency abused the public trust and damaged America’s standing abroad while simultaneously acknowledging the importance and complexities of their mission.
In another previous post, I copied something Marc Thiessen wrote in his book, Courting Disaster:
In the opening prologue to Kill or Capture, Alexander talks about how legendary WWII-era interrogators stuck to American values and principles, never resorting to torture. Well, guess what? The very best American interrogators- including Alexander, Soufan, and those directly involved in the CIA enhanced interrogation program- also uphold American values and principles; and also do not believe in the effectiveness of torture.
Incidentally, according to Eisenhower and the German POWs by Stephen Ambrose and Gunter Bishhof, as many as 56,000 German POWs- about 1% of the total numbers captured by war’s end- may have died while in U.S. custody. Contrast this with the .125% in today’s GWoT: Human Rights First reported in a 2006 study that since August of 2002, 100 detainees held by the CIA and the U.S. military had died while in captivity (According to military records, 34 of these are suspected or confirmed homicides). According to Department of Defense figures, by 2006, over 80,000 have been held under U.S. custody in the War on Terror.
Why do I bring this up? Because I feel that in today’s world we make mountains out of mole hills. That any transgression that comes to light is given so much media attention that it becomes disproportionate to the overall context. Everything becomes hyperbolic.
I am hoping to find the time to go through the actual reports- both the majority and minority views.