130226_john_mccain_605_ap“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering.

“Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored,” the senator added.

“I know, too, that bad things happen in war. I know in war good people can feel obliged for good reasons to do things they would normally object to and recoil from,” he said. “I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. I know their responsibilities were grave and urgent, and the strain of their duty was onerous.

“But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.”


In his new memoir Decision Points, former President George W. Bush says that he personally approved the use of waterboarding against 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission human rights experts say could have legal consequences for him. Bush says that he was asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who was suspected of knowing about pending plots against the United States, and that after getting a thumbs-up from legal advisors, he replied “Damn right.” Bush says “Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.”

Really? The veracity of this latest assertion is under question. The Daily Telegraph reports that Bush’s claim is supported by “by a welter of evidence,” including a confession made by Mohammed to a military tribunal at Guantánamo Bay, where he said he had been in charge of “planning, surveying and financing for the operation to destroy Heathrow Airport, the Canary Wharf Building and Big Ben on British soil.” But the Telegraph quotes others who are more dubious. “I have to say I’m skeptical,” said Daveed Gartenstein Ross, a US terrorism expert. “Having said that, there are just a handful of people who know what was said and in what circumstances, and I’m not one of them”. Kim Howells, a former Labour MP who chaired Britain’s intelligence and security committee, said he doubted that “what we regard as torture actually produced information instrumental in preventing those plots coming to fruition”.

In The Guardian, David Davis, the Conservative former shadow home secretary and a strong advocate for civil liberties and due process, said: “For [Bush] to demonstrate the use of torture saved British lives he has to demonstrate you can’t get information any other way. We know from Iraq that whenever brains rather than brutality was involved, you get better results.” Davis pointed to claims made by one detainee, Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, after he was tortured that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida and that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, both of which have proved not to be true. Adds The Guardian, “Bush also mentioned Abu Zubaydah, waterboarded after his capture in Pakistan in 2002. Zubaydah told his interrogators that al-Qaida had links with Saddam Hussein and that there was a plot to attack Washington with a “dirty bomb”. Both claims are now recognized by the CIA to be false.”

There is another question beyond the issue of results: has Bush opened himself to criminal charges? Says The Independent, “A British court, however, would regard waterboarding as torture and illegal. It contravenes Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Downing Street stated yesterday that it came under the British Government’s definition of torture.” Quoted in The Guardian, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC said that, by confessing to ordering torture, Bush risks prosecution. “George W Bush has confessed to ordering waterboarding, which in the view of almost all experts clearly passes the severe pain threshold in the definition of torture in international law.” The former president is lucky his preternatural incuriosity is unlikely to take him very often across Texas state lines.