At the White House on March 5, Republican presidential nominee John McCain, glowing with George W. Bush’s endorsement of him, said that “on the fundamentals and the principles of our Republican Party and most of the specifics of our shared conservative philosophy, President Bush and I are in agreement.” Not mentioned over their lunch of hot dogs was their affinity for certain practices of torture in the war against terrorists, a continued reversal of McCain’s convictions.
Back on Dec. 15, 2005, McCain, during a televised meeting with the president, was able to proclaim – after Bush had yielded to McCain’s demand to support legislation against torture – “We can move forward and make sure that the whole world knows that, as the president has stated many times, that we do not practice cruel, inhuman treatment or torture.”
If McCain really believed the president then, he would not have felt the need to press for his anti-torture amendment against the strong opposition of Dick Cheney, the president’s consultant on “the dark arts.”
Indeed, Bush, after signing the bill with McCain’s amendment, immediately issued one of his elastic signing statements that he would not enforce that prohibition if it interfered with his constitutional responsibility for national security.
By the end of December 2005, the president had signed the Detainee Treatment Act – which McCain voted for – that stripped prisoners at Guantanamo Bay from habeas corpus rights to protest in our federal courts not only the legality of their detention, but also their conditions of confinement, including torture. And the president’s Guantanamo tribunals were allowed by that law to consider evidence against detainees extracted by “coercion” – a pliable synonym for torture, as has been documented at Guantanamo. This largely nullified McCain’s previous amendment.
The next year, McCain voted for the Military Commissions Act that gave the president the authority to interpret the rules of the Geneva Conventions (which we’ve signed) on treatment of prisoners that could let him twist that agreement to approve “coercive” interrogations. In a later executive order, Bush specifically validated the power of the CIA to continue its purported cruel, inhuman and degrading practices – not by that name – in its secret prisons that the presidential executive order continued.
I do not recall an objection by McCain to that presidential executive order that further subverted the senator’s asserted condemnation of torture.
This year, the Republican presidential nominee, courting conservatives, solidified his alliance with George W. Bush in voting to accord special interrogation privileges to the CIA.
During a February Senate vote on the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Act that – for the first time – would establish in law, through the Army Field Manual (that does prohibit torture), a single standard for all interrogations by our forces, McCain voted against that measure because it would end the special license the president has given the CIA.
A majority of both the Senate and the House have voted for this amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act that would compel the CIA to adhere to a basic American value firmly stated last May by Gen. David Petraeus in an open letter to his troops who have so courageously and steadfastly changed the odds on the ground in Iraq – a surge that McCain supports, as do I.
Said Petraeus: “What sets us apart from the enemy in this fight … is how we behave. … Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. … In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published (in 2006) shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.”
Why did McCain vote against a single standard proved effective by the Army Field Manual – especially since he used to say about torture: “It’s not who they (the enemy) are. It’s who we are.”
McCain’s watery explanation of his vote: “We always supported allowing the CIA to use extra measures. … What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual.” McCain continued to say his vote against the single standard is “consistent” with his former convictions. He doesn’t say how it is.
On March 8, the president vetoed the bill that makes the CIA consistent with our values – as exemplified by Petraeus. Over their celebratory lunch at the White House, there was no indication that McCain tried to argue Bush out of the veto.
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