In Which John McCain Puzzles Anew

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on April 26, 2009

I write as someone who agrees in large part with the stance taken on interrogation policy by John McCain. I think that he generally has things quite accurate on the issue. I believe that torture is something we ought to stay away from as much as humanly possible, that the best way to get information out of detainees is to employ the FBI methods of questioning and conversation that establish a rapport between the detainee and the interrogator, and which work surprisingly quickly in getting results, and that torture is a last resort for “ticking time bomb” scenarios, with the understanding that such scenarios are exceedingly unlikely to come about. We are not likely to have a situation where all at once, we are faced with (a) a ticking time bomb, and (b) the presence of a detainee who knows everything about the impending attack, including how to stop it. Even if we were faced with such a situation, the detainee in question would likely stall as much as possible under torture, and then give false information in order to stop the torture, while at the same time leading interrogators on a wild goose chase that will cause precious time to be wasted before the attack is carried out.

All of that having been written, I really disagree with McCain’s latest on the issue of releasing documents associated with interrogation policy:

Releasing classified memos showing whether harsh Bush-era interrogation methods yielded useful information from terrorism suspects is not necessary, Republican Senator John McCain said on Sunday in a public disagreement with former Vice President Dick Cheney.

After President Barack Obama released four memos this month revealing the Bush administration’s legal justification for methods such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning — Cheney called for declassifying any memos showing that these techniques succeeded in producing valuable information.

“No, I don’t think it’s necessary, to be honest with you,” McCain told the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

Well, why not?

Whether we like it or not, there is a controversy concerning whether torture works. It is probably too extreme to say that it never works, but the question is whether we are prepared to claim that it works too rarely to allow interrogation policy to veer towards the realm of torture.

Why not answer that question by releasing all of the memos? Doing so will allow us to have a great deal of information at hand with which to make informed decisions concerning the nature of interrogation policy. And if–as I suspect–we find that there just is not enough evidence to justify certain forms of enhanced interrogation, then perhaps people like McCain (and people like me) can make some converts on the issue.

I have written recently on the need for transparency when it comes to the information concerning interrogation policy. The more transparency we have, the more information is out there, the better our decisions can be when it comes to crafting interrogation policy. John McCain, however, apparently wants us to have blinders on, and to process as little information on the issue as possible. I am gobsmacked that he actually thinks this approach is helpful.

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