Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jane Meyer on the position of McCain Of The Many Houses on the torture policy

Jane Meyer, author of The Dark Side (2008) was in a live chat at FireDogLake Saturday afternoon taking questions about her book. I posed the following question.

Jane, you cite in your book and at least one of your TV interviews I've seen, John McCain's statement nominally opposing the torture policy, "It's not about them, it's about us."

But you also note that McCain has now "feinted to the right" in what you call "a nod to the conservative base of his party" in opposing the legislation that would have prevented the CIA from torturing prisoners.

You also describe the manner in which President Bush treated McCain's highly-publicized Detainee Treatment Act when he signed it in late 2005. Bush made one of his infamous signing statements that he would enforce the law "in a manner consistent with" his own view of his Constitutional prerogatives as Commander-in-Chief. You also describe how Steven Bradbury of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued an opinion specifically on the CIA's treatment of prisoners that validated the techniques they were using, including the drowning torture, aka, "waterboarding".

I didn't object to Congress passing the Detainee Treatment Act. But I always regarded it as basically kabuki theater. They were re-outlawing torture that was already outlawed under both American and international law. Everyone by then knew that Bush was claiming the power under the Cheney-Addington-Yoo theory of the Unitary Executive to torture people in disregard of the law. What was the point of simply passing a new law when the problem was clearly known to be Bush's disregard of the anti-torture laws already in force?

It was also well known at that time that the "signing statements" were used as an element of Bush's claiming that alleged Constitutional exemption from obeying the law. Yet even after he issued the signing statement essentially announcing he didn't intend to obey that law any more than any of the others, McCain said that he was fine with Bush's signing statement.

My question is, do we have any actual reason to believe that McCain opposes the Bush-Cheney torture policy? Or that he will put an end to it if he's elected President? Why do you assume that McCain's opposition to the later anti-torture legislation aimed at the CIA is just a "a nod to the conservative base" rather than an expression of his actual position?

It seems to me at least as consistent with his performance to assume that he knew very well that the 2005 statements he made in opposition to torture would actually do nothing at all to stop the administration's policy and practice of torture. He said he was perfectly fine with Bush signing statement that everyone knew meant that Bush claimed the right to not obey that law. McCain explicitly opposed the later bill targeting CIA torture. Why should we believe that he's really anti-torture? It looks far more likely that his 2005 nominally anti-torture position was a feint to the press corps that are so inclined to adore him anyway to polish his phony "maverick" image. Do you actually believe McCain would obey the anti-torture laws as President?
She responded as follows:

I really did think McCain was opposed to using torture - because having been tortured he knew that as he has admitted "everyone breaks" so he knew the information would be dubious. People say whatever it takes to stop the pain - and he did that himself. I think the issue is fundamental for him. But he certainly has cut some corners on related issues - allowing the CIA to use interrogation methods beyond those approved for the military. No one every got him to say exactly what methods he meant to approve with this. It'’s something reporters really ought to nail him about!
And I added the following comment:

Jane, thanks for the additional insight into McCain’s position.

And thank you for your careful research and clear writing in this book. The torture policy is a critical issue. And I do wish the press would pursue many of these questions, including McCain’s position, much more aggressively. Evidently they’re too busy obsessing about John Edwards' love affair and gasping in horror that the Clintons will be appearing at the Democratic Convention. But your book is a real public service.
She also responded to a question about whether administrative officials feared impeachment over the torture policy. Her response is devastating in its brevity in what it says about the collapse of the First Branch of government, the Congress:

There were numerous reports from inside the administration of top officials fearing being criminally prosecuted. I didn't hear anyone fearful of impeachment. But Gonzales in particular worried out loud about war crimes charges being a potential problem. The CIA was petrified of being prosecuted... [my emphasis]
They were more afraid of John Ashcroft's corrupt, hyper-partisan Justice Department than of Congress. In fact, she didn't encounter anyone who seemed to be concerned about Congress intervening at all. What a disgrace!

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