Thursday, June 5, 2008

McCain and Torture

“‘Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,-- George Washington at the battle of Trenton.

On that cold December day in New Jersey the future president of the United States set a standard that lasted through the long Revolutionary struggle and to well beyond. The policy saved lives in many wars. For over 200 years the official policy that forbade torture stood as a guiding American principle. While there were exceptions to this rule; official policy was to punish people who tortured. All that changed with the presidency of George W Bush. Thanks to freedom of information releases we now know that torture was routinely used and routinely authorized at the highest levels of the Bush White House. Of course no one actually called it torture; it was called aggressive interrogation techniques.

Of all the people in American Politics no one has a more intimate knowledge of how those techniques work than John McCain. His Vietnamese prison wardens very aggressively interrogated him. They were so aggressive that they broke his legs. They were so aggressive that McCain cracked and signed a false confession. This was before the John Yu memo gave legal cover to such actions.

Earlier in the Republican campaign John McCain did not see the wisdom of the Yu memo and flatly equated waterboarding as torture. He took a contrarian stand against the Republican herd and stood against Gitmo. There was the much ballyhooed McCain-Graham-Warner bill that “forbade torture.” The bill was very weak tea to begin with and President Bush’s signing statement negated any attempt to limit his ability to torture whenever, wherever he liked. McCain did not utter a peep when the signing statement was released. John McCain talked a good game; he even “forced” the president to “compromise” in a made for T.V. event. However, in the end he rolled over and gave Bush everything he wanted. George W Bush got his own private Gulag. In Gitmo and other places Bush reigns like oriental despot. His writ is law and his power is untrammeled.

The final degradation of McCain happened just recently. The CIA was just given carte blanche by legislators to be as bad as they want to be. The proposal that they follow rules, the proposal that they should be held accountable to the standers set by George Washington, was killed by John McCain’s vote. It was an amendment requiring that the CIA adhere to the Army Field Manual when they questioned suspects. McCain marched in lock step with his fellow Republicans and voted against that amendment. McCain voted to let the CIA continue to use torture and abuse on suspects that it detains.

From being a victim of torture John McCain has now become an enabler. He has given his seal of approval to Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, electric shock, and physical pain up to that experienced in organ failure. The CIA and its contractors can continue to repeat the methods exposed at Abu Ghraib. It is full speed ahead on sending suspects to Syria and Egypt for a little “softening up.” After 231 years we are now the just like the Revolutionary war British. We even have our own Hessians: Blackwater USA., KBR, and others. John McCain is just fine with this.

We are a long way from the man who spoke out against these excesses in February. There has been a long, slow, slide away from the core values that McCain once swore to uphold and defend. We are a long, long way removed from the man who stood in solidarity with his fellow detainees in the “Hanoi Hilton.” That John McCain served bravely and honorably. That John McCain was an exemplar of a 200 year military tradition of honor, valor, courage, and country. That John McCain understood the gross violation of torture. He knew in his bones how torture soiled everything it touched. He understood how torture degraded every one involved in it. He could hold his head up high and know that his nation was better than his captors; that his country stood for higher principles. McCain knew that the USA objected to torture, that it prosecuted people for the type of behavior his Vietnamese guards indulged themselves in. That John McCain is long gone; he has been replaced by a smarmy politician who will pander to the worst instincts of the Wing-nut right. Just like Mitt Romney he has”doubled down” on Gitmo. In doing so he has disgraced the uniform he once wore. In doing so he has besmirched the high ideals set by George Washington and dishonored the outstanding record of military service his family has provided. More to the point, McCain has proved himself unworthy of the highest executive office of the land.

“Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.” - George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775

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