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McCain and a ‘Unique Moral Perspective’ on Torture (Video)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday , Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.  

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.”

McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prison during the Vietnam War and endured unspeakable torture, is virtually unassailable on the issue. His comments put him back in the maverick role, at least in relation to the chamber’s internal politics, that has long defined his congressional career.  

Shortly after the report’s release, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Intelligence ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., released a critical take. (Even McCain’s close friend, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, called it politically motivated and harmful to the nation in his own statement , though his floor speech was more circumspect.)  

The McConnell-Chambliss joint statement on the report slammed it as “ideologically motivated” and stated, “that the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program developed significant intelligence that helped us identify and capture important al-Qa’ida terrorists, disrupt their ongoing plotting, and take down Usama Bin Ladin is incontrovertible. Claims included in this report that assert the contrary are simply wrong.”  

Not so, McCain said.  

“What might come as a surprise not just to our enemies but to many Americans is just how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism,” he said.  

And if anyone had forgotten his bona fides, McCain reminded them. “I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence,” he said. Wrapping up, he returned to a theme he has pursued through the years on the topic: “In the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said and will always maintain that this question isn’t about our names, it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are, and who we aspire to be.”  

Soon after, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., rose to proclaim, “I feel we have done a very good thing here, and I appreciate very much, particularly Sen. McCain coming forward. He brings a unique moral perspective and force to this conversation, and he has wielded that moral perspective and force with great courage.”  


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