Did McCain Flip-Flop On Torture?

By Jennifer Parker

Feb 15, 2008 9:49am

This week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., voted against an intelligence bill that stated:

"No individual in the custody or under the effective control of an element of the intelligence community or instrumentality thereof, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations."

Andrew Sullivan, who has written admiringly of McCain’s anti-torture position in the past, describes himself as "heartbroken."

"I simply cannot see any explanation for this except politics – that McCain feels the need to appease the Republican far right at this point in time,…McCain has indeed been a leader in preventing the military from torturing terror suspects, and in banning waterboarding. But by leaving this lacuna in the law, he gives this president the space he wants. As president himself, of course, McCain would surely instruct the CIA to uphold the American way of interrogation, and not to adopt techniques once used by the Gestapo and prosecuted by the US as war crimes. But we now know that there will be one difference between Obama and McCain in November. One will never tolerate torture; the other just did."

McCain insists that he remains opposed to torture and waterboarding, but that this bill would have applied military standards to the CIA, which he opposes. As McCain said on the Senate floor:

"It was not my intent to eliminate the CIA interrogation program, but rather to ensure that the techniques it employs are humane and do not include such extreme techniques as waterboarding. I said on the Senate floor during the debate over the Military Commissions Act, ‘Let me state this flatly: it was never our purpose to prevent the CIA from detaining and interrogating terrorists. On the contrary, it is important to the war on terror that the CIA have the ability to do so. At the same time, the CIA’s interrogation program has to abide by the rules, including the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act.’"

McCain argued that when the Congress voted to apply the Army "Field Manual to the Department of Defense, it deliberately excluded the CIA. The Field Manual, a public document written for military use, is not always directly translatable to use by intelligence officers. In view of this, the legislation allowed the CIA to retain the capacity to employ alternative interrogation techniques. I’d emphasize that the DTA permits the CIA to use different techniques than the military employs, but that it is not intended to permit the CIA to use unduly coercive techniques

indeed, the same act prohibits the use of any cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment."

"What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual, " McCain said, "but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program."

Lots of supporters of the bill, of course, say that the CIA hasn’t proven itself to be interpreting their statutes in "good faith" and thus need this law.

President Bush is going to veto it anyway, as White House spox Dana Perino said in a gaggle yesterday morning, because "it would repeal the entire enhanced interrogation program that this Congress passed on a bipartisan basis in October of 2006. It’s the program that General Hayden has said has saved lives. This is not the President talking, this is the intelligence community…

"Do you trust the intelligence community more than you trust Democrats who are beholden to their left wing?"

What do you make of this all?

- jpt

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