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Right Turn
Posted at 12:00 PM ET, 05/13/2011

Sen. John McCain gets his facts wrong on EITs

Sen. John McCain’s op-ed in Wednesday’s Post decried the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Liberals trumpeted the “good McCain.” Sen. Harry Reid (D- Nev.) swooned. But, like so many of the anti-EIT crowd, McCain makes an argument based on untruths.

Marc Thiessen provided former attorney general Michael Mukasey’s rebuttal. In this devastating portion, Mukasey tells us McCain is making stuff up or is uninformed when he says the EITs didn’t work or didn’t provide accurate information:

KSM disclosed the nickname — al Kuwaiti — along with a wealth of other information, some of which was used to stop terror plots then in progress. He did so after refusing to answer questions and, when asked if further plots were afoot, said that his interrogators would eventually find out. Another detainee, captured in Iraq, disclosed that al Kuwaiti was a trusted operative of KSM’s successor, abu Faraj al-Libbi. When al-Libbi went so far as to deny even knowing the man, his importance became obvious.

Both former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Director of National Intelligence Admiral Michael McConnell have acknowledged repeatedly that up to 2006, many of the valuable leads pursued by the intelligence community came from the three prisoners who were subjected to harsh techniques that included waterboarding in order to secure their cooperation.

This is the intellectual, and I would argue moral problem, that opponents of EITs — be they Juan Williams or John McCain — face. They so detest the thought of the U.S. applying harsh interrogation techniques that they have convinced themselves that they don’t work. For if they did, the argument would have to shift to “even though we were able to secure information that saves American lives, we shouldn’t do it.” That’s consistent, but it’s an undesirable formulation (not to mention one that the vast majority of Americans reject). EIT opponents therefore simply prefer to believe EITs don’t work. But they do, and they did. And Osama bin Laden is dead.

Mukasey doesn’t zone in on this, but I think it is important to focus on one specific assertion McCain makes: “Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.” The part about mock execution is simply false and is as much a slur on our intelligence employees as was Williams’s insinuation that we pulled “out people’s teeth and eyeballs.” In the detailed directions and limitations set out by Office of Legal Counsel lawyers including Steven Bradbury’s May 10, 2005 and May 30, 2005 memos, it is clear that there was no effort to suggest to the detainees they might die. To the contrary, elaborate procedures and medical personnel were in place to assure they would not suffer “severe mental or physical distress.”

Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies confirmed to me the distinction between the sort of mock executions McCain refers to (and was aware of from firsthand experience) and the techniques used by the CIA. Under the limits imposed by Justice Department lawyers, CIA operatives “drew a line between torture and coercive interrogation [and] made clear that the interrogators could not lead those waterboarded (only three individuals) to believe they were being executed. In fact, the interrogators had to make them understand their lives were not being threatened — even if, as was likely the case, that diminished the effectiveness of the technique. And the terrorists knew they could stop the process at anytime simply by being cooperative rather than defiant, that is by answering simple questions to which the interrogators generally knew the answers.”

You can argue (if you can figure out another plausible argument) that waterboarding was “torture” under American criminal law or international law, but it wasn’t so because our CIA was staging mock executions. To suggest otherwise is unwarranted and unacceptable.

By  |  12:00 PM ET, 05/13/2011

Categories:  law, National Security

 
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