Senator John McCain on Waterboarding and Torture

Senator John McCain on Waterboarding and Torture

By John King, USA - November 14, 2011

KING: The United States made a similar call for Assad to step down back in August, but is there more Washington could do now?

Joining me is Senator John McCain.

He's the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator McCain, let's start with Syria.

More killing, more bloodshed, some tougher action from the Arab League.

What should the Obama administration, what should the United States Congress be doing right now?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, some tougher sanctions, to start with, John, and including getting the Russians and the Chinese to stop blocking larger sanctions through the United Nations. Also, encourage Turkey to continue to play a leadership role.

The Turks have gone from apologists to -- for Syria to very strong measures being taken by Erdogan, the prime minister. And we ought to be helping out in as more ways as we possibly can, providing encouragement, providing condemnation for what Assad is doing and stating unequivocally that the killing cannot go on forever, or otherwise, more stringent measures are taken.

But the Arab League measures that were taken, I think, are very important and we could see the same kind of thing that happened in Libya, although the situation is vastly different.

KING: You mentioned the Chinese and the Russians. They don't want tougher sanctions on Syria. Senator, they also don't want tougher sanctions on Iran.

Does there have to be another way, that does not involve the United Nations Security Council, where those two countries consistently say no?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, you know, the Russians are going into WTO, the Chinese are trying to be -- act like a grownup superpower. We should -- there's a lot of pressure points we could put on the Russians and the Chinese that, you know, would just point out to the world that they're out of step. They -- they're -- they are -- are in support of the Iranians. They're supporting the Syrians. And they're certainly not acting in a mature fashion.

And so I think we could put a lot of pressure on them.

KING: A lot of foreign policy conversations in the presidential campaign of late. Let's turn to that. There was a big Republican debate this past weekend. I know you were watching it.

You know, if we went back to the last campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama disagreed on most things, but they did agree that it was time to start working toward closing Guantanamo Bay. They did agree that certain enhanced interrogation tactics, like waterboarding, equal torture and should be outlawed.

Listen to some of your party's candidates for president Saturday night.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Using those techniques that we know will extract the information to save young American lives. And I will be for it until I die.



HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.



MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country.


KING: Bachmann, Cain, Perry there. The Romney campaign said after the debate he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.

What did you make of that, Senator?

MCCAIN: I'm disappointed. Ask any military lawyer, ask any person who knows about the Geneva Conventions that we're signatories to. We actually prosecuted Japanese war criminals specifically for the act of waterboarding against Americans.

And just two additional points, John.

One, it doesn't work. If you put enough physical pain on somebody, they will tell you whatever they think that you want to hear in order to -- for the pain to stop.

And second of all, what about our moral standing in the world?

It -- Abu Ghraib was a terribly damaging situation and one that we still have not recovered from. I still want to close Guantanamo Bay. But the Obama administration has mishandled it so badly that it can't be closed now.

But the point is that waterboarding is a -- is a -- is an affront to all of the standards that we believe in and adhere to of humane treatment of people who are human beings.

And, of course, I am disappointed at the statements that were made.

And, again, it doesn't work.

KING: You say it doesn't work, sir.

Do they just not get it?

And do you need to have a conversation with the person who would like to be the next Republican nominee or -- or maybe you don't like this, is your party more to your right?

Does your party agree with them and not you?

MCCAIN: Well, judging from the applause that -- in the clip that you just played, obviously a lot of people agree with them. Again, it's a -- it's a matter of the president telling the American people about the Geneva Conventions and why we didn't torture prisoners in World War II. That was because they held Americans as prisoners. And why we prosecuted people for the very same act of waterboarding after World War II was over.

Ask any military lawyer and they will tell you that it is illegal. I hope they will look into the -- into the issue.

KING: You just mentioned the president has had a hard time keeping his promise to close Guantanamo Bay and how he's handled it. I don't want to revisit that, but I'm often -- I'm fond of often saying running for president is very different than being president.

I want you to listen to Governor Romney here talking about Iran at the debate Saturday night.


ROMNEY: If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.


KING: It sounds great, Senator.

But easier said than done?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's easier said than done, but I think that -- that Governor Romney is on the right track here. We have to make it clear to the Iranians that they cannot and will not have a nuclear weapon. And one of the greatest conundrums that we face today is whether Israel will take unilateral action in order to remove that possibility, as well.

they have acted in the past, in the case of the Syrian reactor, in the case of an Iraqi reactor. And I'm -- I think that this is a -- a situation that cries out for American leadership and we should lay down a marker on the Iranians.

But again, the Russians and the Chinese, because we can squeeze them harder with sanctions on their banking system and their oil exports, as well.

KING: You went through a lot of debates back in 2000, more debates back in 2008. We're watching a lot of them in this Republican season. Two debates ago, Governor Perry, to use his words, "stepped in it." That came up a little bit Saturday night.

Listen here.


SCOTT PELLEY, MODERATOR: Governor Perry, you advocate the elimination of the Department of Energy.

If you eliminate the Department of Energy...

PERRY: I'm glad you remembered it.


PELLEY: I have had some time to think about it, sir.


PERRY: Me, too.



KING: The last time you were with us, Senator, it was after a rough debate for Governor Perry. You suggested he get a little bit more sleep. I just wanted to close on that light note to see if you have any more advice for him.

MCCAIN: I don't, except that I think he did the right thing by injecting humor. Americans love humor. That's why Will Rodgers and Mark Twain are still two of our favorite Americans.

KING: Senator John McCain, appreciate a little...

MCCAIN: Thanks, John.

KING: -- a little humor at the end of the conversation, an important conversation about Syria and other world challenges.

Sir, thank you for coming in tonight.

Appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you. 

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