McCain on Waterboarding

John McCain has been taking a lot of flak for voting against the Senate’s anti-torture bill. Since McCain is known for straight-talk, let’s see what he has to say:

“I made it very clear that I think that water-boarding is torture and illegal, but I will not restrict the CIA to only the Army field manual,”

Well, that sorta sounds like straight-talk, but it’s completely crazy. Some issues are kind of a careful balancing of competing concerns. It doesn’t really seem like torture is one of them. Once you sign up for the claim that it’s torture, it’s pretty hard not to vote against it. Perhaps if it were the “establishment of a dictatorship but an anti-torture dictatorship” Bill, that might be a competing consideration, but this looks like a pretty lame reason. Of the techniques in the Army Field Manual, only one seems like it might be worth keeping:

[The Army Field Manual] outlaws sleep deprivation and the practice of putting prisoners in stress positions designed to cause pain. It also bans unwarranted touching of detainees, the use of dogs to intimidate, and imposition of temperature extremes.

Update: It looks as if McCain isn’t even being straight with us. An excerpt of his comment on the legislation makes it sound as if current law already prevents the CIA from using waterboarding. His remarks are a bit unclear, but if that’s what he means, he’s being extremely disingenuous. As it stands, nothing in the law clearly directly prohibits waterboarding, and the people in charge of assessing its legal status have been evasive. Perhaps the existing laws could be read to prevent it (I wouldn’t doubt that, actually), but so long as they’re not being read that way, we need legislation to outlaw waterboarding.

Update Redux: I missed that the CIA is currently allowed to threaten the family of a detainee, while the Army is not.  That’s obviously a crucial interrogation tactic.

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