Thursday, February 14, 2008

McCain's 'heartbreaking' compromise on torture

Andrew Sullivan cannot contain his disappointment in St. McCain.

I'm heartbroken. Torture is illegal and immoral whether it is conducted by the military or the CIA. That was McCain's original position. It appears it is no longer. Marty Lederman homes in on the key point:

    Senator McCain rightly insists that the U.S. may not (i) torture; (ii) engage in cruel treatment prohibited by Common Article 3; or (iii) engage in conduct that shocks the conscience, under the McCain Amendment. He also insists that waterboarding violates each of these legal restrictions, that the Bush Administration's legal analysis has been dishonest and flatly wrong, and that we need "a good faith interpretation of the statutes that guide what is permissible in the CIA program."

    The Feinstein Amendment would have accomplished all of these objectives, but Senator McCain voted against it, presumably because he wishes that the CIA be permitted to continue the use of other of its enhanced techniques, apart from waterboarding. Those techniques are reported to include stress positions, hypothermia, threats to the detainee and his family, severe sleep deprivation, and severe sensory deprivation. Senator McCain has not explained which of these he thinks are not torture and cruel treatment, nor which he would wish to preserve for use by the CIA. But if the President does as he has promised and follows Senator McCain's lead by vetoing this bill, the CIA will continue to assert the right to use all of these techniques -- and possibly waterboarding, as well.

I simply cannot see any explanation for this except politics - that McCain feels the need to appease the Republican far right at this point in time, and, tragically, the right to torture has now become a litmus test of "conservative" orthodoxy. It's a Karl Rove wedge issue of a classic kind: using the crudest of emotional appeals to gin up populist authoritarianism for the sake of Republican partisan advantage in wartime. There is nothing conservative about torture, of course. But the authoritarians of the far right are hardly conservatives in the traditional sense either.

So McCain reveals himself as a positioner even on the subject on which he has gained a reputation for unimpeachable integrity.
And, sadly, McCain's pandering to the right on torture is likely to go a long way toward restoring his conservative street cred. What a horrible entity the Republican Party has become.