Let me close by noting that I hold no brief for the prisoners. I do hold a brief for the reputation of the United States of America. We are Americans. We hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people, no matter how evil or terrible they may be. To do otherwise undermines our security, but it also undermines our greatness as a nation. We are not simply any other country. We stand for something more in the world, a moral mission, one of freedom and democracy and human rights at home and abroad. We are better than these terrorists, and we will win. The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don't deserve our sympathy. But this isn't about who they are; this is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.
He also believes that our treatment of enemy combatants will affect the enemy's treatment of our captured soldiers:
I would like to believe that this is the last war in which the United States will ever be involved. I would like to believe that from now on, after we win this war on terror, we will have peace and the United States will never send its men and women in harm's way again. History shows me otherwise. What happens in the next conflict when American military personnel are held captive by the enemy and they make the argument, with some validity, that we have violated the rules of war? What happens to our men and women in the military then? There are some who will say they wouldn't respect the rules of war, anyway. If they are not sure they are going to win, as the Germans weren't in World War II, they might treat our prisoners according to certain standards if we insist upon those standards.
Well, someone tell John McCain that the enemy we face in this war, today, cares not whether it is subjected to accountability at any future war crimes trials. They will do what they feel will most terrify and demoralize their enemy, that is, our troops: Iraqi police: Body found in U.S. uniform
Iraqi police found the body of a man who was wearing what appeared to be a U.S. military uniform and had a tattoo on his left hand floating in the Euphrates River south of Baghdad on Wednesday morning. One Iraqi official said the body was that of an American soldier.
The man had been shot in the head and chest, Babil police Capt. Muthana Khalid said. He said Iraqi police turned the body over the U.S. forces.
Where was the Geneva Convention for this soldier? Which representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross spoke to him? What was the nature of the due process he was given, the opportunity he had to present a defense? By what authority did his captors impose the death penalty on him?
Foregoing "inhumane" treatment -- intensive and aggressive interrogation -- will not earn our troops humane treatment by our enemy.
Nor will it earn us the respect of the rest of the world. Those who hate America hate us not for what we do but for who we are -- and they need no excuse to elevate the idiot pranks at Abu Ghraib to the level of torture. For them, generic soap and shampoo are sufficient evidence of US torture.
But if renouncing torture doesn't earn the US any benefit, does its use -- or at least the use of aggressive and intensive interrogation techniques -- obtain the intelligence we need from detainees?
Not according to John McCain, as he expressed in the South Carolina Republican debate (registration required) -- even as our armed forces in Iraq were engaged in a desperate hunt for three of our captured soldiers:
First question to you, Senator McCain. How aggressively would you interrogate those being held at Guantanamo Bay for information about where the next attack might be?
SEN. MCCAIN: If I knew for sure that they had that kind of information, I, as the president of the United States, would take that responsibility. That is a million-to-one scenario. But only I would take that responsibility.
The use of torture -- we could never gain as much we would gain from that torture as we lose in world opinion. We do not torture people.
When I was in Vietnam, one of the things that sustained us, as we went -- underwent torture ourselves, is the knowledge that if we had our positions reversed and we were the captors, we would not impose that kind of treatment on them.
It's not about the terrorists, it's about us. It's about what kind of country we are. And a fact: The more physical pain you inflict on someone, the more they're going to tell you what they think you want to know.
It's about us as a nation. We have procedures for interrogation in the Army Field Manual. Those, I think, would be adequate in 999,999 of cases, and I think that if we agree to torture people, we will do ourselves great harm in the world.
McCain is trapped in the paradigm he learned at great personal cost in the Hanoi Hilton. But the conditions of that time and place were very different from Gitmo today. The Viet Cong wanted McCain to denounce the United States as a propaganda tool; while torture might get a prisoner to make statements denouncing his country or cause, that doesn't prove that the prisoner has internalized that denunciation and truly turned. However, interrogators at Gitmo aren't seeking to convert detainees, but only to extract factual information about their organization, methods and operational plans. Even John McCain (according to his autobiography, "Faith of My Fathers," broke under torture and revealed factual information:
"Demands for military information were accompanied by threats to terminate my medical treatment if I did not cooperate," he wrote.
"I thought they were bluffing and refused to provide any information beyond my name, rank and serial number, and date of birth. They knocked me around a little to force my cooperation."
The punishment finally worked, McCain said. "Eventually, I gave them my ship's name and squadron number, and confirmed that my target had been the power plant."
The interrogation techniques used at Gitmo pale in comparison to McCain's treatment at the hands of the Viet Cong. Still, they worked wonders in extracting valuable information from detainees like Khalid Sheikh Muhammad:
Captured al-Qaeda planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has given U.S. interrogators the names and descriptions of about a dozen key al-Qaeda operatives believed to be plotting terrorist attacks on American and other Western interests, according to federal officials. Other high-level al-Qaeda detainees previously disclosed some of the names, but Mohammed, until recently al-Qaeda's chief operating officer and the brains behind the 9/11 attacks, has volunteered new ones. He has also added crucial details to the descriptions of other suspects and filled in important gaps in what U.S. intelligence knows about al-Qaeda's practices.
McCain's view is that the efficacy of our interrogation techniques is completely irrelevant to our conduct of the current war against our current enemy, and that only the reputation of the United States in the world's eyes matters. That way lies the destruction of our civilization, and when the world is under the rule of the Caliphate that al-Qaeda seeks, the values McCain holds so dear will be consigned to the dustbin of history.