John McCain

John McCain's Lessons About Torture

The senator was wrong about plenty, but not about the immorality of inflicting cruelty on prostrate detainees.


Oh well. ||| John McCain's twitter feed
John McCain's twitter feed

As laid out in this snippet of a Friday-night tweetstorm, there aren't a lot of libertarian-friendly policy recommendations or achievements one can associate with the late John McCain. He was for lowering tariffs, reforming entitlements, and, well, the list peters out pretty quick from there (although I did my level best with a September 2008 "Libertarian Case for McCain").

On the other side of the ledger lies his disregard for constitutional liberties, his distrust of individualism, his open hostility toward "libertarian orthodoxy," and arguably the most interventionist foreign policy of any post-Cold War politician. You know the drill.

But there is one issue where McCain was active with which I wholeheartedly agree with him: torture. As I write in today's New York Times, the P.O.W. turned senator spent more than a half-century trying to teach Americans that torture is both immoral and unproductive, that "every man has a breaking point," and that military personnel derive a motivational pride from America having higher moral standards than its debased adversaries. Excerpt:

That lesson is fading from view in 2018, disregarded both by a president who believes that torture "absolutely works," and by a #resistance cadre of ex-national security officials whose own brazen lies about the practice have yet to put a noticeable dent in either book sales or cable-TV contracts.

When Osama bin Laden "finally met the fate he deserved, the apologists for torture appeared in numbers on cable news shows and in the newspapers claiming bin Laden wouldn't have been found without intelligence gained through the use of EITs" — enhanced interrogation techniques, Mr. McCain snarls in "The Restless Wave." "In truth, most of the C.I.A.'s claims that abusive interrogations of detainees had produced vital leads to help locate Bin Laden were exaggerated, misleading, and in some cases, complete bullshit."

Whole thing here.

McCain's example demonstrated that you need not choose a side between Team #MAGA and the Deep State #Resistance Grifters. What will get mostly lost in this week's outpouring of D.C. grief is that the McCain/establishmentarian Third Way is itself not the only path out of our rancid political thicket. After all, McCain's old antagonist Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is plenty anti-torture and pro-trade, too.

If anything, as long as those high-minded, centrist-sounding political-class lamentations about bipartisan civility this week come unencumbered by even a hint of critical self-examination, they will almost surely repel swaths not just of Trump voters, but Americans of all stripes who haven't exactly fallen back in love with the establishment. As I wrote in a piece about the shrinking tent of McCainite conservatism back in May,

[I]t's hard to escape the conclusion that McCain and his Republican cohort—Sen. Bob Corker, former Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Lindsay Graham—helped midwife the conservative politics they now so clearly loathe. The twin follies of promiscuous war and unbridled GOP growth of government, lashed to sporadic and transparently insincere nods toward populism, has turned a generation of voters against the Republican establishment. It remains to be seen if the rejection will be permanent.

My obit of McCain here.

NEXT: Brickbat: Cover Up

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  1. Treasonous media uses Communist torturer to advocate their position that they now love McCain. The media are a bunch of traitors to the Constitution and hate America!
    Piece ‘o shit Mainstream Media enlists a Communist torturer to add to TDS

      1. I would have to be a Socialist to be a Nazi. Since I am a Libertarian, I am about as far from Socialist as you can get.

        Anarchist would be farther, but you can ask Sarcasmic about Anarchy.

        1. As a communist, you are a socialist, LC.

          1. No, he’s not.

            1. He collectivizes people and he’s immune to learning. Sounds like a commie to me.

              1. Communists want the state to control all property and all persons.

                Sounds nothing like me.

                Commies hate me and the Constitutional Democratic Republic that I love to live in.

              2. He collectivizes people

                Stating a generalization about a group of people isn’t “collectivization”.

                Collectivization” is what communists do with guns and jackboots.

                1. perlchpr is confusing stereotyping and collectivization?

                  He’s a moron.

        2. You are as far from a Libertarian as you can get.

        3. Since I am a Libertarian, I am about as far from Socialist as you can get.

          That line of reasoning indicates that I, because I am a libertarian, also am about as far from socialist as one can get.

          Good to know.

          (Fun fact: The “L” stands for libertarian.)

          1. I am not a Libertarian.
            i am not a socialist.
            I am not a Nationalist Socialist (Republican…NAZI)
            I am not a Globalist Socialist (Democrat…Marxist)

            I am an individualist.

            In the BBC TV series “The Prisoner”, Number Six always wanted to see Number One. He protested, “I am a man and not a number!!!”. He is incorrect. While he may be a man he is a number. Number Two continually asked him, “Why did you resign?” His question, “Who is Number One?”, remained unanswered for fifteen of the sixteen episodes.

            When did Number Six become free from “The Village”? He became free during the Sixteenth and final episode. He became free when he finally met Number One.

            He became free when he recognized that he, himself, was Number One.

            When will you recognize that you are Number One? That is the key to open your prison and walk out the door..

      2. “Dang, dude. You need a dermatologist to help you with that rosacea.”
        -Angela Edwards – August 11, 2018

  2. If they don’t want anyone talking about what a shitty human being he was, they should stop talking about what “wonderful” human being he was.

    1. +1

      1. + many, many more

        Yesterday, on MSNBC, CNN, Meet the Press, Face the Nation, FOX, and WBZ Boston, it was incessant government media national security military industrial neo-Cohen complex hagiography of this awful, bitter, nasty, profligate “war hero.”

        You are not a hero because you bomb little boys and girls.

        You are not a hero when you spend the entirety of your adult life in the public sector.

        You are not a hero when you champion the mass murder of residents of regimes who you deem need to changed.

        You are not a hero when you divorce your wife for an heiress to a fortune.

        Good riddance.

        1. AMEN, Liberty Mike!!!…McCain The Lame & Insane was not even a war hero, but a traitor!…..He was dubbed the canary early on in Vietnam! Several times he tried to stifle legislation regarding POWs & MIA.He was an evil NWO Zio-Con SOB who should rot in hell!

    2. The fawning has been retarded.

      No, his death wasn’t ‘tragic’. Sad sure, maybe even funny to some.

      But not tragic.

      1. I would have been a bit more sympathetic if McCain had resigned when he was diagnosed, as he should

        As it was, he used his illness in the same way he used his capture: for self-aggrandizement and self-promotion and to shield himself from criticism.

        And his wife and daughter seem to be cut from the same cloth, based on their public statements.

    3. how about you can only tell us not to say he was a shitty human being, if you also, were not saying he was a shitty human being in 2008.

  3. One wonders if, since his experiences informed that dislike for torture, absent those experiences he would still have been a vocal opponent of the practice. One also wonders if that is what it takes for most politicians to denounce it in no uncertain terms. If that second part is true, then we’re unlikely to see too many more of those who legislate and govern us to have had that personal experience on the wrong side of torture, to fight America’s use of it.

    1. One needn’t wonder much. Because unfortunately he didn’t use that experience or enormous credibility on that issue to actually STOP torture.

      His 2005 defense amendment prohibited DoD personnel from using any interrogation technique not in the US Army Field Manual – but allowed other govt personnel to. Which they did. In that case, he submitted to a Bush threat to veto the bill to make it weaker.

      Three years later – the Dems proposed the same broad torture ban he had proposed earlier. He voted against that – and when it passed, he was OK with Bush vetoing it and killing it. Presumably because 2008 was an election year and getting Bush’s endorsement to nail down the nomination was more important to him than using his credibility on torture to stop it.

      I’m not sure he really could have made the GOP reverse course because they clearly favor torture now post 9/11. But failing to use up any of his credibility on that particular issue is damning to his legacy.

  4. Back in 2011, even Lefty outlet The Atlantic did a story about how McCain was not anti-torture for people besides him.
    John McCain’s Spotty Record on Torture

    1. ^ This. McCain’s stance on torture was, like everything he did, just self-aggrandizement and political expediency.

  5. You know who else died of brain-related issues?

    1. The Scarecrow?

    2. Zombies?

    3. Stalin?

      1. Bingo! (And Lenin, too)

      2. Trotsky

      1. Swing and a miss!

      2. Goodbye Old Pilot?

    4. Vince Foster? Seth Rich? Anthony Bourdain?….Or the other 40 or so people who crossed the Klintons?

    1. And by “war party” you mean the “uni party” that spans the political spectrum like the unibrow that spans Frida Kahlo’s forehead?

  6. “Lowering tariffs” sells him short. Plenty of politicians are for lowering tariffs, or especially other nations’ tariffs. McCain was for reducing our own tariffs unilaterally, and against non-tariff trade barriers and distortions. He was great on the farm bill, great on wanting to cut the stupid sugar program, great on removing ethanol tariffs, great on the Jones Act, great on Open Skies and allowing other airlines to fly to US cities or between them. (And on all of those things, much, much more libertarian than of course Obama but also most senators of either party.)

  7. His opposition to torture actually helped to prevent the War on Terror from spiraling out of control, under both Obama and Trump. Gotta give him credit for that. Also he spoke out to support press freedom when we needed it most. Yes he was wrong on a lot of issues, but as long as we are free we have a chance of getting things right. RIP John McCain.

    1. His opposition to torture actually helped to prevent the War on Terror from spiraling out of control, under both Obama and Trump. Gotta give him credit for that.

      Hundreds of thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; massive debt due to war spending; hundreds of thousands of American lives on hold because of military deployment; massive security theater across the US. If that’s not “spiraling out of control”, what the hell would “spiraling out of control” look like?

      McCain was a war monger and someone who supported nearly unlimited spying. I think it’s an outrage to try to rewrite history to turn him into some kind of hero.

      1. He was also responsible for the arming of ISIS in Syria & expanding that IMMORAL & ILLEGAL US intervention there…McLame The Insane was an evil piece of shit!

  8. So… he was good on one thing?

    For people who consider such behaviour as virtuous, you could literally defend Hitler that way. “He murdered six million Jews but at least he was a vegetarian!”

    (For the analogy impaired, I’m not saying McCain was Hitler, I’m pointing out the fallacy of this line of argumentation.)

  9. He was against torture great, so am I, that said he was also voted against looking for fellow POW in Vietnam even after several high ranking personnel and others showed convincing evidence that there were still prisoners there after the war. McCain was a strange man. I respect his military service while ignoring the rumors about his service, war does terrible things to people. Other than that there was nothing redeeming about him.

  10. Maybe he was a good person, but why did he try so hard to cover up info about left behind POWs?

    1. Clearly the lizard people got to him by fluoridating his water.

    2. McCain was trying cover for LBJ, JFK, and Nixon who refused to ‘win’ against the North Vietnamese.

      Bombing north vietnam into rubble in 1964 would have been a good start. Obliterating every north vietnamese on the Ho Chi Mihn Trail in 1965 would also have been a good start.

      With that being said, Americans should have never let JFK and LBJ get the USA so involved in Vietnam.

  11. Keating five.

    1. Damn! I forgot about Lincoln Saving and Loan defaulting under fraudulent activity and 4 Democrats and McCain were accused of being involved.

      McCain really used his POW status to get out trouble

  12. McCain and the POW Cover-Up

    Was Rambo Right?

    “I read copious, detailed evidence that hundreds of American POWs had been condemned to death at enemy hands by top American leaders, apparently because their safe return home would have constituted a major political embarrassment.”

    1. I suspect that not a single left behind POW is alive today. As with the Korean War, some American POWs were shipped off to the USSR for KGB interrogation. They were executed so the USSR could never be linked to the POWs.

      The other POWs left behind as a bargaining chip were executed since the USA would not fight for them anymore. The commies in Vietnam would not give them up without a trade and after a few years, Vietnam did not want bad press that they withheld POWs. It was easier just to murder the Americans.

      McCain always felt bad that he was treated better than fellow POWs and that he cracked so easily. No military member blames a POW for cracking but make them work for the fake confession. Since Vietnam didnt really abide by the Geneva convention regarding POWs, giving a false confession at least told your family that you were alive. If you kept telling the Commies to fuck off, they would just murder you and nobody would ever know you survived your capture.

      1. Why all the lies in our media? Will a truthful history be written?

        “Could this one article be true and all the countless contrary pieces I had read in America’s most prestigious publications be false, merely the presentation of official propaganda endlessly repeated? . . . Yet what I found most remarkable about Schanberg’s essay were not its explosive historical claims but the absolute silence with which they were received in the mainstream media. In 2008, John McCain’s heroic war record and personal patriotism were central to his quest for supreme power?a goal he came very close to achieving. But when one of America’s most eminent journalists published an exhaustive report that the candidate had instead served as one of the leading figures in a monumental act of national treachery, our media took no notice. . . All of this might seem unimaginable except that it falls into a strong pattern of the press avoiding stories of overwhelming importance.”

  13. McCain had a few good things about him (like being anti-torture and not being a Trump boot-licker) but was mostly an establishment Republican war-monger.

  14. McCain’s argument against torture was primarily a utilitarian one, and he had no moral qualms destroying the lives of thousands through unnecessary wars and intrusive intelligence action.

    McCain, his politics, and the so-called “conservatism” he represented were morally bankrupt and motivated by self-aggrandizement, vanity, and anger. I would have preferred if McCain had had the decency to resign a year ago, but either way, the country is better off without him in power.

    The sooner the Republican party rids itself of morally bankrupt people like McCain, the better for the country.

    1. Being against torture might be the absolute lowest bar imaginable for being a moral human being, but it does put McCain above most Republicans.

      1. Being against torture might be the absolute lowest bar imaginable for being a moral human being, but it does put McCain above most Republicans.

        Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that McCain had any principled objections to torture; it was likely just politically expedient posturing on his part.

        And while I don’t know about the morality of “most” Republicans or “most” Democrats, Hillary and Obama engaged in thousands of drone killings around the world, with no evidence of moral qualms. Hillary, in particular, seems to get off on killing people.

  15. Being for or against torture is one of those extremely situational ethics types of questions. If it is your family who has been kidnapped and someone has stumbled into your hands who is highly likely to know where they are being held, that is a much different proposition than hypotheticals about President John McCain and modern wartime situations.

    I wish Trump had shown McCain just a tad more respect post mortem, but I can understand why that didn’t happen. I met John once and exchanged a wartime anecdote (I was part of a naval raid in 1972 that caused a brief false hope at the Hanoi Hilton that the prisoners might be rescued.) We thanked each other for our service. He had a lot of dandruff on a very expensive blue suit, which I thought at the time indicated someone who has it too made to care.

    But McCain was a genuine hero and an honorable man. He was not a very good U.S. Senator because his analytical skills were not the greatest and he rarely did his homework on any issue. Anybody who gained his trust could lead him down the garden path on anything.

    I recall one critical Senate hearing where it appeared to me (and others) that John was playing a game on his phone throughout.

    1. As a senator, he let his personal feelings about Trump lead him from voting for repeal of Obamacare. Then instead of doing the honorable thing and relinquishing his senate seat as his health failed, he held onto it to the grave.

      He’s proof that a war record is no indicator of what kind of politician you’ll make…

  16. Eh, McCain was legit tortured (to the point where he was crippled).

    Pouring water on someone’s face might not be a nice thing to do, but it’s not even painful, just scary and has no long term effects

    1. And really, it confused the debate because what would end up doing is letting our less savory allies legitimately torture people

      Is it better to let them torture people for real, or for us to waterboard them? It’s kinda a farcical answer to say waterboard is bad and then let others do the torture for us.

    2. Tortured or not, he was a war monger. No wars, no torture…

    3. Waterboarding is torture. It is mock execution and one of the more serious forms of that (unlike say russian roulette). It does have long-term effects and at least two detainees died.

      That large groups of Americans have sunk to defending waterboarding as not legit torture is a permanent stain on the US. And it will cost the US severely in future because to most people in the world, a power that uses its power over others to torture has crossed the line to evil. It is not the one thing that changes people’s opinions about a power – but it is an important one.

      Every country declines at some point. A country that declines without friends and where everyone is grateful to see (or hasten) that decline, declines much harder and leaves no worthwhile legacy. And that will hit the US much harder than previous superpowers because so much of our national identity is based on a sense of ‘exceptionalism’.

  17. The only good warmonger is a dead warmonger.

    “For God’s sake don’t torture them, kill them from above!”….

  18. McCain was tortured. As is often the case with torture, he lived the rest of his life with physical handicaps inflicted on him by that ordeal. He wasn’t the only one; other POW’s held with McCain were tortured and bore scars from it.

    Equating what happened to McCain and others with the “enhanced interrogation” techniques (including the use “water boarding”) used by the US is simply BS. I’ve never heard of even one person handicapped by US waterboarding or other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.
    This is because there aren’t any. Waterboarding simply isn’t torture.

    1. If its not torture, why would they do it?

      noun: torture
      1. the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment or to force them to do or say something, or for the pleasure of the person inflicting the pain.

      They did it because it’s torture and they could get away with it.

    2. Drowning is severe pain. Your body is dying from lack of oxygen.

      Your position is bad here. You’re advocating partial death and then making sure the person doesnt die.

      I can cut a person a thousands times with a scalpel as long as they dont die. Not torture according to you.

      1. No one is drowning.
        It is unpleasant, but then so is being locked in a cage.
        It is done to our own special forces troops. They say it isn’t that bad, if you know how to deal with it.
        Kalid Sheik Mohammed used to do the count-downs, with his fingers, as it was being done to him, because he knew how long they were going to have the water flowing.
        Cutting someone, even once, causes pain. That’s torture.
        Water-boarding, not so much.

        1. At least two detainees DID die directly from it.

          The SERE training that special forces undergo is:

          a)specifically intended to prepare those troops for BEING tortured if they are captured

          b)does NOT have the psychological elements of mock execution because those undergoing it are not being deemed ‘the enemy’ by those conducting it. And yet there have also been deaths of special forces who underwent waterboarding

          c)is not actually the same thing as the waterboarding we inflict on detainees.

  19. Torture may be immoral, but it works.

  20. I think McCain was mainly a show-boater when it came to torture. If he had been serious about opposing torture by US personnel then the Detainee Treatment Act a.k.a. the McCain Detainee Amendment (MDA) would have strongly promoted criminal accountability for the people who had authorized torture by USpersonnel and rendition to countries known to engage in torture. It didn’t.

    Torture was already illegal under US law and the MDA was mainly smoke and mirrors. Thus, like Obama (on torture) McCain was happily looking forward, not backwards. I don’t mean to say McCain was in favor of torture he just wasn’t a serious opponent of it.

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