Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bush, McCain, and Torture

Today Senator John McCain goes to the White House to pick up the endorsement of President George W. Bush. He will almost certainly go out of his way to avoid President Bush for the remainder of the campaign.

But given the timing of this brief meeting, it is worth thinking about where Senator McCain and President Bush have been in the "torture debate." James Carroll provides a helpful entry into the subject.

Carroll's column in the Boston Globe on Monday notes that President Bush is poised to veto the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008 because it seeks to tie CIA interrogation methods to the standards articulated in the US Army Field Manual. This would prohibit "acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, or exposure to inhumane treatment."

Senator John McCain (as noted here) voted against this provision, apparently sacrificing his principles to the demands of the Republican presidential primary process, which effectively ended last night as McCain secured enough delegates to win the Republican nomination and his one remaining challenger, Mike Huckabee, bowed out. As Carroll notes, Senator McCain explained his vote against the provision this way: "What we need is not to tie the CIA to the Army Field Manual, but rather to have a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program."

The former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Harry Soyster is not impressed by Senator McCain's reasoning: "As Senator McCain well knows, the Bush administration has never provided a good faith interpretation of laws prohibiting torture; instead it has produced--and continues to produce--legal opinions that downgrade the definition of torture to the point where the term becomes virtually meaningless and any conduct at all is permissible."

Carroll concludes:

That torture is even a subject of debate in this country is a flabbergasting development. That dozens of America's most admired military leaders find themselves openly opposing the commander in chief on such a question is equally surprising. Another astonishment is that McCain, avatar of military honor, finds it necessary, according to his perceptions of what politics requires, to trim his opposition to torture. It may be just that unthinkable now that Bush will sign the bill before him. But who knows? On torture, the shocks abound.