Last night on The Ed Show, I discussed the amazing speech and column by Senator John McCain on torture. One of the most notable aspects of the comments was McCain stating that the claim by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey that torture led to the location of Bin Laden is simply untrue and confirmed as false by CIA Director Leon Panetta.
As did Ron Paul in the recent Republican debate, John McCain confronted his colleagues over the effort to redeem torture by claiming that it was beneficial in this case. As he correctly notes, torture is a war crime not because it lacks any benefit in terms of intelligence but because it is immoral.
One of the most interesting passages was:
Former attorney general Michael Mukasey recently claimed that “the intelligence that led to bin Laden . . . began with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information — including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” That is false.
I asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and he told me the following: The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. The first mention of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — the nickname of the al-Qaeda courier who ultimately led us to bin Laden — as well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaeda, came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured. None of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed’s real name, his whereabouts or an accurate description of his role in al-Qaeda.
To the contrary, McCain points out that the torture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed resulted in demonstrably “false and misleading information.”
Where I part with McCain is his insistence that, despite it being torture (and thus a war crime), no one should ever be punished for the crimes. It is important to stand for principle but it is even more important to bear the responsibility that comes with principle. It may not be popular or convenient, but we are obligated to investigate and prosecute torture.