This is getting really good. As noted below, John McCain in an Op ed this morning skewered the claim that the killing of Bin Laden vindicates torture. But just now, on the Senate floor, he uncorked a new broadside that is quite remarkable, taking direct aim at Bush apologists who are reviving this debate in order to claim Bin Laden’s death as part of the Bush legacy.
McCain amplified his case, and called on former Bush attorney general Michael Mukasey — whose recent op ed claiming torture led to Bin Laden has been widely cited by the right — to retract his claims. McCain’s speech is worth quoting at length:
“With so much misinformation being fed into such an essential public debate as this one, I asked the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon Panetta, for the facts. And I received the following information:
“The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. We did not first learn from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the real name of bin Laden’s courier, or his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the man who ultimately enabled us to find bin Laden. The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as well as a description of him as an important member of Al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not conduct this detainee’s interrogation, nor did we render him to that country for the purpose of interrogation. We did not learn Abu Ahmed’s real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ‘enhanced interrogation technique’ used on a detainee in U.S. custody. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts, or an accurate description of his role in Al-Qaeda.
“In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married, and ceased his role as an Al-Qaeda facilitator — which was not true, as we now know. All we learned about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti through the use of waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against Khalid Sheik Mohammed was the confirmation of the already known fact that the courier existed and used an alias.
“I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and they confirm for me that, in fact, the best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee — information describing Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real role in Al-Qaeda and his true relationship to Osama bin Laden — was obtained through standard, non-coercive means, not through any ‘enhanced interrogation technique.’
“In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden. I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement. It’s important that he do so because we are again engaged in this important debate, with much at stake for America’s security and reputation. Each side should make its own case, but do so without making up its own facts.
This is taking on the makings of an old-fashioned, barn-burning senatorial crusade, and it’s unclear if anyone of McCain’s stature is going to step up and make the pro-torture case. For all his flaws, McCain carries great authority on this issue because of his own past experiences.
It’s becoming clearer that despite the Obama administration’s desire to avoid relitigating the torture debate, this is precisely the time to do it. The emerging evidence is on the side of torture opponents: A careful and extensive New York Times investigation concluded that torture “played a small role at most” in tracking down Bin Laden. Beyond this, the larger dynamic is perfect: The president that has been widely derided by the right as weak for ending torture tracked down and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. That’s a pretty strong starting point for this argument.
Republican Senators are apparently set to grill David Petraeus and Leon Panetta at their confirmation hearings over torture’s role in getting Bin Laden. So in addition to McCain’s increasingly high profile on the issue, we may soon see the popular Petraeus reiterating his opposition to torture in a high-visibility setting — after the Obama administration killed America’s number one terrorist foe. Gettin’ mighty interesting.
Video of McCain soon.
UPDATE: Here’s video of the whole speech. It’s long, but if you want to watch the key part, go to around the 5:40 mark:
UPDATE II: Post edited slightly for accuracy.