It's a mighty fine line to walk. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) opposes torture. But when the Senate held a vote yesterday that would effectively prevent the CIA from employing torture by restricting interrogation techniques to those under the Army Field Manual, he voted against it.
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You can read his extended explanation of that vote below. But here's what it comes down to. The bill yesterday would have restricted the CIA to the Army's rules for interrogating detainees. McCain believes that the CIA should have a freer hand. That includes the use of "enhanced interrogation" techniques.
Now, the Justice Department and the CIA haven't said exactly what those are. But precisely because the White House knew that they'd be fighting this battle, they've made quite an effort over the past month to broadcast that waterboarding is not on the list of possible techniques. That's what their PR offensive has been all about; waterboarding is off the table (for now), so let us keep our toys. Those other techniques "are reported to include stress positions, hypothermia, threats to the detainee and his family, severe sleep deprivation, and severe sensory deprivation," as Marty Lederman notes.
But by voting against the bill, McCain is saying that the CIA should have a free hand to employ techniques along these lines. At the same time, he stresses that the 2006 Detainee Treatment Act, the bill he himself sponsored, prohibits the use of any cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment and treatment that "shocks the conscience." He hasn't said which of the techniques listed above meet that description. But he trusts that the Justice Department and CIA will arrive at a "good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible."
Attorney General Michael Mukasey gave a taste of what that "good faith" interpretation is when he testified before Congress. What "shocks the conscience" depends on the circumstances, he said. Waterboarding might very well be OK, he argued, if the situation were dire enough.
But McCain says that waterboarding is torture. And as he says in his statement below, "It is, or should be, beyond dispute that waterboarding 'shocks the conscience.'" So he disagrees with the administration's "good faith" interpretation. But apparently he still has faith.
Confused? It's certainly not a position that's easily summarized. The major papers take a run at it this morning, and, well, the nuance just doesn't come through.
From The New York Times: