What are the boundaries of civil debate about the torture of terrorism suspects?
Well, President Trump has said he wants to “fight fire with fire” and commonly endorses barbaric approaches to detainees. During the 2016 campaign, Trump made some memorable statements about Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was tortured while a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “He was a war hero because he was captured,” Trump said at a 2015 event. “I like people who weren’t captured.”
So there’s the bar, as set by the president of the United States.
Now check out how retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney approaches that bar. During a discussion with host Charles Payne on Fox Business Network, McInerney was asked to opine on the criticism faced by Gina Haspel, who was grilled on Wednesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee in her pursuit of confirmation for the top job at the CIA. Having played a role in the CIA’s interrogation/torture program during the 2000s, Haspel waffled a bit as Democratic senators pushed her on the morality of the methods, which are no longer in force.
McInerney was riding with Trump on this one: “It’s very simple to me, Charles. If we have some terrorists and the possibility of five nuclear weapons going off in U.S. cities, I want to use any method that will determine where they are, when it’s going to happen and how we can nullify them,” he said. “I’m not interested in values. I’m interested in saving a million American lives. It is very simple. And that kabuki that went on yesterday on the Senate intel committee by the Democratic members is the [inaudible] set of questions I’ve ever heard. And it ought to ensure all our viewers — never elect a Democrat again. ”
Payne noted that McCain himself, a Republican, had declined to endorse Haspel and asked McInerney how lawmakers should evaluate the nominee. “Well, she can’t use it anymore because we’ve determined — the Congress — that it’s not legal. The fact is, is John McCain — it worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John,’ ” said McInerney, who was appearing on the network as a guest, though he formerly served as a Fox News contributor. “The fact is is those methods can work and they’re effective, as former vice president [Dick] Cheney said. And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to.”
As PolitiFact has noted, there’s no evidence for the claim that McCain betrayed his country in captivity.
Need we detail just how depraved it is to say something of this sort about a veteran who has served his country his entire life? A man who’s now at home in Arizona trying to beat brain cancer? Of course not. This is just where we are.
Payne will be addressing this moment on air tonight, according to a network spokesperson.
Update: Payne has tweeted an apology: