Lots of people-including us-talk about torture. But few only people who have actually been tortured can speak authoritatively and publicly about exactly how it dehumanizes both victim and torturer — and why it doesn't work. Sen. John McCain, who was tortured during the Vietnam War, has been a pretty steadfast opponent of torture, and today, he added his voice to the debate about whether information gained through torturing detainees in U.S. custody contributed to finding Osama bin Laden. Sen. McCain wrote in Wednesday's Washington Post:
I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear — true or false — if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading.
Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops, who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and al-Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more conventional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.
In fact, as Sen. McCain asserted that torture doesn't work, others say abusive interrogations may even have hampered the hunt for bin Laden. Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin reports:
"I think that without a doubt, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden," said an Air Force interrogator who goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander and located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006.
We disagree with Sen. McCain's view that the architects of the Bush administration should be absolved of legal consequences. And Sen. McCain is plain wrong when he asserts that "we wrote into [the Military Commissions Act of 2007] that no one who used or approved the use of these interrogation techniques before its enactment should be prosecuted." This is false. No federal statute-including the Military Commissions Act and the Detainee Treatment Act, to which Sen. McCain meant to refer-provides immunity for torture. The Detainee Treatment Act simply provides a defense for those who relied "in good faith" on the advice of counsel, but there is no immunity. (We can put aside for the moment whether anyone could have relied "in good faith" on John Yoo's torture memos.)
In Wednesday's op-ed, Sen. McCain implores us to be "stronger and better than those who would destroy us." We can only be stronger and better if our leaders bring those responsible for torture and abuse to justice. But at least we can agree on one thing: torture doesn't work. So why is there even a discussion?