McCain Hedging on Waterboarding

28 10 2007

Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has championed anti-torture legislation and has remained a steadfast critic of the Bush Administration’s torture policies. In 2005, he took on the White House in battling for the passage of a “law banning cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror,” which, among many other torture techniques, outlaws waterboarding.

And as recently as this past summer at a GOP Presidential Debate in New Hampshire, he castigated his fellow Republicans for implying that pro-torture policies helped U.S. in its so-called “war on terror.” At that forum he said, “And it was interesting, during the debate on torture, the retired military, from Colin Powell on down and others, sided with me. Those who had no military experience took the other side.” As it is often noted, Sen. McCain’s position on the issue is rooted in his experience of being tortured while held captive by the Vietnamese after his plane was shot down 40 years ago this week.

So given McCain’s history of being a fierce anti-torture advocate, one would think he would be much more forceful in his criticism of Attorney General nominee Michael Muskasey’s refusal to call waterboarding torture. During his confirmation hearings, Mukasey said if waterboarding was unconstitutional it was indeed torture, a statement that completely ignoring the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, or at best suggesting the law itself was inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution. Either way Mukasey’s response implied he might at worst permit, if not encourage, certain techniques already banned by Congress to continue.

But Mr. Straight Talk Express actually did nothing of the sort while on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos earlier today. In fact, when asked point blank “Will Mr. Mukasey have to say clearly that waterboarding is torture to get your vote for attorney general?” McCain sounded coy and cautious. He simply retorted:

I can’t be that absolute. But I want to know his answer. I want to know his answer. Obviously, you judge a candidate for office or nominee for office on the entire record. But this is a very important issue to me.

Watch it!

In recent days, a number of other Senators have voiced their criticism of Mukasey’s refusal to unambiguously condemn the use of torture, including Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA), Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has already stated he will vote against Muskasey’s confirmation.

In the coming days, we will see if Mukasey credibly repositions himself on the torture issue to merit Senate support. If Muskasey wins Senate approval despite an unequivocal rebuke of all torture methods, the rest of the Senate will be using the same double-talk play book the administration has been using on the American public since the Abu Garaib.

(H/T: Think Progress)

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