McCain Rebukes Trump, Cruz on Torture

McCain Rebukes Trump, Cruz on Torture
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Sen. John McCain criticized the leading Republican presidential candidates Tuesday for their positive statements on waterboarding and torture, calling such comments “loose talk” that goes against American values.

In the GOP presidential debate Saturday night, Donald Trump, the front-runner in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, said he would bring back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding” if elected president. Sen. Ted Cruz, who won the Iowa caucuses last week, said that waterboarding didn’t amount to torture, but is simply enhanced interrogation, though he said he wouldn’t bring back its widespread use.

Cruz did add, however, that facing an imminent attack, he “would use whatever enhanced interrogation methods we could to keep this country safe.”

McCain, a Vietnam veteran who spent five years as a prisoner of war, called the comments from his party’s top candidates “disappointing.”

“It might be easy to dismiss this bluster as cheap campaign rhetoric, but these statements must not go unanswered because they mislead the American people about the realities of interrogation, how to gather intelligence, what it takes to defend our security and, at the most fundamental level, what we are fighting for as a nation and what kind of nation we are,” he said.

The Arizona Republican made his remarks on the Senate floor the same day New Hampshire voters are headed to the polls for the first-in-the-nation primary. McCain is popular figure in that state and won its primary during both his 2000 and 2008 presidential bids.

McCain and Cruz have a well-established antagonistic relationship in the Senate, and they have often butted heads, most notably over the Texas senator’s role in forcing the 2013 government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act. Trump has also been at odds with McCain – the real estate magnate called him a “loser” last year and said he wasn’t a war hero because he got captured, a statement that was widely panned by Republicans and Democrats alike.

McCain has not endorsed a GOP presidential candidate after his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham dropped out.

In his statement Tuesday, McCain said the use of torture in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks did little to produce “actionable intelligence” in the fight against al-Qaeda, but rather “compromised our values, stained our national honor and did little practical good."

He dismissed Cruz’s notion that waterboarding doesn’t amount to torture, saying the “practice, which is a simulated execution by drowning, amounts to torture as any reasonable person would define it” and as it’s defined in the Geneva Conventions.

He noted it is “an insult” to intelligence officers who do their jobs without using enhanced interrogation methods “to assert we can’t win this war on terrorism without using such methods. Yes, we can and we will."

McCain, who was his party’s presidential nominee in 2008, cited the fact that the annual defense authorization measure signed into law last year specifically banned torture, limiting interrogation methods to those in the Army’s field manual. McCain needled the candidates by suggesting they would go beyond the law in allowing the interrogation practices.

“Now candidates are saying they will disregard the law,” McCain said. “I thought that was our complaint, Republican complaint, with the present president of the United States.”

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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