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November 21, 2005: McCain Writes Powerful Plea against US Torture Practices

McCain speaking against torture on Fox News.McCain speaking against torture on Fox News. [Source: Daily Gadfly (.com)]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and a victim of torture, writes an impassioned op-ed for Newsweek exhorting the US not to resort to torture in its interrogations of terror suspects. He writes: “I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.… We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort.”
Produces False Information - He gives numerous reasons: abusing prisoners does not produce reliable information, but instead “often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering.” McCain recounts his own example of providing false information under torture, giving his captors the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line instead of the names of his flight squadron. “It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.”
Betrays America's 'Commitment to Basic Humanitarian Values' - Moreover, McCain writes, America’s “commitment to basic humanitarian values affects—in part—the willingness of other nations to do the same. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive.” We cannot expect al-Qaeda and other such enemies to be “bound by the principle of reciprocity,” but “we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.” Global public criticism of North Vietnam’s brutality towards US prisoners resulted in a substantial decrease in their abuse of POWs. The war against terrorism is “a war of ideas,” he writes, “a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes.” To defeat the idea of terrorism, “we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.”
'We Are Different and Better than Our Enemies' - McCain writes that while he does not “mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life… [w]hat I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength—that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.”
Waterboarding Is Torture - McCain states flatly that any interrogation technique that simulates an execution, including waterboarding, is torture. “[I]f you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.”
Exceptions Do Not Require New Laws - There is always the extreme circumstance bandied about in discussions: what should be done with a terror suspect who holds critical information about an imminent terrorist attack? While such an extreme circumstance may well require extreme interrogation methods, McCain writes, “I don’t believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America’s purposes and practices.” [Newsweek, 11/21/2005]

Entity Tags: John McCain

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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