Sen. McCain Speaks On Torture

Ever since U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden, a debate has grown about whether interrogation methods widely seen as torture produced key information that led to his demise. Thursday, a member of the U.S. Senate who has himself been tortured spoke up. Arizona Republican John McCain — a former prisoner of war — rose on the Senate floor to inveigh against the use of torture — and to chide a former attorney general for asserting harsh interrogation had paid off.

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Ever since U.S. Forces found and killed Osama bin Laden, a debate has raged. It's about whether interrogation methods widely seen as torture produced key information that led to his demise. Well, today a member of the Senate who has himself been tortured spoke up.

Arizona Republican John McCain, a former prisoner of war, rose on the Senate floor to inveigh against the use of torture and to chide a former attorney general for asserting that harsh interrogation had paid off.

NPR's David Welna has our report.

DAVID WELNA: Senator John McCain may have shifted many of his positions over the last few years, but today he made it clear he was by no means having second thoughts about his long-held opposition to torture.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I opposed waterboarding and similar so-called enhanced interrogation techniques before Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, and I oppose them now.

WELNA: Those who assert such methods were essential to finding bin Laden, McCain added, are simply wrong.

Sen. McCAIN: It was not torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.

WELNA: McCain took direct aim at a claim made last week by the George W. Bush administration's last attorney general, Michael Mukasey. Mukasey wrote in the Wall Street Journal that suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had broken while being waterboarded in U.S. custody and had disclosed the nickname of bin Laden's courier, information that eventually led to the raid on bin Laden.

McCain said that in fact CIA director Leon Panetta had informed him that nickname had not been learned as the result of the waterboarding of any U.S. detainee.

Sen. McCAIN: I hope former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement. It's important that he do so because we're again engaged in this important debate with much at stake for America's security and reputation.

Each side should make its own case but do so without making up its own facts.

WELNA: Former Attorney General Mukasey responded in a statement sent to NPR. McCain, he said, was, quote, "simply incorrect." Mukasey insisted harsh interrogation had produced the nickname of the courier and added it was done before Congress passed statutes barring such methods.

Some lawmakers are now urging a review of those statutes, but McCain, who was tortured during five and a half years as a prisoner in North Vietnam, insisted more can be learned through humane interrogation than through torment.

When he finished speaker, Majority Leader Harry Reid predicted McCain's words will be remember.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): The easy thing to do would be say that we should treat them as poorly as they treat us. But it takes a resume and courage to stand as my friend from Arizona did today and speak.

Sen. McCAIN: And could I just thank my very, very honorable friend and adversary for his kind remarks. I will always remember them.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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