Credit where credit is due. Sen. John McCain on Fox News this morning said, in no uncertain terms, that waterboarding is undoubtedly torture. Reacting to the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, McCain had this to say:

One is too much. Waterboarding is torture, period. I can assure you that once enough physical pain is inflicted on someone, they will tell that interrogator whatever they think they want to hear. And most importantly, it serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.

Nice to see that McCain still has at least a few honest bones left in his body. Good for him.

Update: Also appearing on Fox News, fired NYT columnist conservative commentator William Kristol claims to not understand what all the torture memo fuss is about:

Wallace: As you read the memos and you learn what we did and how top Justice Department officials justified it, are you struck by how brutal we were or how careful we were?

Kristol: How careful. I mean has any other country at war gotten memos from the Justice Department? Extremely carefully of recent I would say. Especially the Steve Bradbury 2005 memos before going ahead and trying to deal with the rather small number of terrorists who had been involved in murdering thousands of Americans and were very much intending to do more of that..I read those memos, you think that’s what everyone’s so upset about.

Hmm, who should we listen to… Coddled upper-crust douchebiscuit William Kristol or Sen. John McCain, who was repeatedly tortured at the hands of the Vietnamese… Hmm…

Update 2: Super fringey ultra-wingnut Deroy Murdock has a charming piece up on the National Review that makes the argument that we should all be proud of waterboarding. I wonder what Sen. McCain might have to say to this fine gentleman?

Though clearly uncomfortable, waterboarding loosens lips without causing permanent physical injuries (and unlikely even temporary ones). If terrorists suffer long-term nightmares about waterboarding, better that than more Americans crying themselves to sleep after their loved ones have been shredded by bombs or baked in skyscrapers.

In short, there is nothing “repugnant” about waterboarding.

Update 3: No one could have predicted that rabid Bush apologist David Rivkin would do a complete 180 on waterboarding. In a December 2008 appearance on Al Jazeera English, Rivkin stated emphatically that torture is “always unacceptable” and that in his view “waterboarding is torture“:

RIVKIN: Let me clarify, torture in my view is always unacceptable, and in fact I frankly think characterizing American interrogation policy, or debates about interrogation policy, as torture is misleading. … Torture is defined somewhat imprecisely in international law, but basically, in my view, waterboarding is torture.

Fast forward to the present day (a whopping four months later), and this is what the esteemed Mr. Rivkin has to say:

In today’s Wall Street Journal David Rivkin and Lee Casey — who have made something of a cottage industry out of defending the worst actions of the Bush administration — argue that the OLC torture memos released last week by the Obama administration “prove” that the Bush administration did not torture detainees. “Far from ‘green lighting’ torture…the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation,” they write.

Update 4: Andrew Sullivan sums up the “debate” about whether or not waterboarding is “torture” thusly:

Remember also that there is no legal debate of any kind as to the legality of waterboarding someone once, let alone 183 times. It is a war crime. Again: there can be no debate about this. No legal authority of any kind in any country until the Bush administration has ruled otherwise. The waterboard is prominently featured in the torture museum of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. But there is no concern at Fox about the rule of law at all. Recall that the GOP impeached a president for perjury in a civil lawsuit. Because it was a breach of the rule of law. But war crimes? It’s time to move on …

  1. nitpicker says:

    Torturing people is not a war crime; it is a crime against humanity, which is worse. There are a lot of ignorant commentators that keep making the point that non-military prisoners are not protected by the Geneva conventions and cannot be the victims of war crimes. They are probably wrong, but are certainly irrelevant, since we are concerned here with violations of the Convention against torture, which is most definitely not limited to military prisoners.

    • Metavirus says:

      "war crimes" are not just limited to violations of the Geneva conventions.

      Take this definition from Wikipedia, which is how I meant the term:

      War crimes are "violations of the laws or customs of war"; including but not limited to "murder, the ill-treatment or deportation of civilian residents of an occupied territory to slave labor camps", "the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war", the killing of hostages, "the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military, or civilian necessity".

      Bush and his cronies are guilty of a lot of things vis a vis torture: Violations of U.S. law, Violations of the Geneva Conventions (notwithstanding the specious arguments to the contrary), War crimes, Crimes against humanity (see definition below), and the list goes on and on…

      Crimes against humanity: "as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, "are particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice."

      • Timothy says:

        Here is the thing. What is and is not torture, like many things, is in the eye of the beholder. There are acts, like waterboarding, that most reasonable people will agree, without a doubt, is torture. There is also the catch-22 of living in a democracy. We are 8 years out from 9-11. If tomorrow a nuke went off in the middle of NYC, and it was found out the Obama Administration had a person with information that could have been used to stop it, and they did not use every method to extract it, the conversation on the acceptability of torture would quickly change in the country. It doesn't even have to be that drastic. If America started to experience regular suicide bombings, there will be an overwhelming call for extreme force.

        • Metavirus says:

          it's actually a pretty simple analysis. if someone believes that torture is ok in certain unrealistic exceptional "ticking time bomb" scenarios (which, I hope we'd all agree we were absolutely not faced with at the time, considering that the waterboarding of KSM and AZ happened over 266 times in one month long after 9/11) then one needs to push elected leaders to enshrine such concept in the law and repeal our ratifications of the various international treaties we've signed on to that all explicitly state that no exceptional circumstances can be used as an excuse to torture.

          this is how democracy works.

          for example, some people think that pot should be legal, some people don't. right now, pot is illegal. as a result, the government is justified in punishing people when they are caught with pot. this is an entirely different conversation from whether pot should be illegal. i believe that pot should be legalized. in connection with my belief, i pressure my elected leaders to pass laws making pot legal. until such time, however, pot remains illegal and people get locked up for it.

          similarly as to torture — current US law (which includes treaties that we have ratified that have the exact same force as a native US statute) states that torture is completely illegal, without any exception for "ticking time bomb" scenarios. as a result, people that torture and people that authorize torture should be justifiably punished under the laws that make torture illegal. if someone believes that we need an exception for certain circumstances, they should pressure their elected leaders to pass new laws that create such exceptions. until such time, the torturers and authorizers of torture are criminals under the law and should be punished.

          • Timothy says:

            This is where we get into the eye of the beholder thing. My opinion that a thing is torture does not mean it meets the legal definition of torture, and because I believe certain treaties apply to these prisoners, does not mean they actually do. The question was do treaties apply to combatants without a country? We have situations every day where people get away with all sorts of things because there simply has yet to be an actual legal case. On the flip side, the government passes unconstitutional laws, and agree to unconstitutional treaties, and get away with it because there has yet to be a legal challenge. And the fact is that an action is legal or illegal, or constitutional or unconstitutional, is based only on opinion until the courts interpret the laws. The Bush Administration was working with a legal opinion that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to these individuals, and worked under that opinion until the Supreme Court said otherwise. I don't agree with what happened, but I don't really believe there would have been that much difference in what actually happened if Gore had been in the White House. We can only imagine what the world would look like today if they had been successful in the first World Trade Center attacks.

  2. […] of torture such as waterboarding. No less an expert than Senator John McCain has said simply, “waterboarding is torture.” As recently as 2009, McCain has said that that the U.S., under Bush, violated the Geneva […]

  3. […] of torture such as waterboarding. No less an expert than Senator John McCain has said simply, “waterboarding is torture.” As recently as 2009, McCain has said that that the U.S., under Bush, violated the Geneva […]

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