Thursday, February 14, 2008


How does McCain oppose waterboarding, yet oppose making it illegal. TPM Muckraker discusses his attempt to square the circle.

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.

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."

How likely do you think it is that the CIA and the Justice Department will come up with a "good faith interpretation of these statutes"? There's not a chance in hell'

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