Did John McCain's experience in captivity ruin his judgment?


President Trump notoriously once said of John McCain, "He’s not a war hero, I like people who weren’t captured." Trump seemed to be saying, inartfully, that McCain played on sympathy of his experience as a POW of the North Vietnamese to catapult himself, inappropriately, into the US Senate.

At the time I thought President Trump's remarks were inappropriate. But now I wonder if Trump was on to something. Specifically, I wonder if McCain's experience as a captive diminished his judgment.

McCain has never been what you might call a very "solid" Republican or Conservative. He was the decisive vote against the "skinny repeal" of Obamacare; he was the author of McCain-Feingold which tried to limit political free speech; he believes in imaginary global warming; he was never strongly in favor of tax cuts, and supported amnesty for illegal aliens.

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But what caught my attention was a statement McCain made yesterday against CIA nominee Gina Haspel. McCain, who is so ill that he cannot attend Senate sessions, could have chosen merely to be silent about Haspel if he was not predisposed to voting for her. Instead, he made a special effort to stab her and President Trump in the back with a statement to torpedo her nomination.

McCain's problem with her? That Haspel participated in some capacity in interrogating 9/11 suspects. McCain, the victim of torture, real torture, at the hands of the North Vietnamese, finds any kind of enhanced interrogation techniques unacceptable.

Sen. John McCain is urging the Senate to reject Gina Haspel, President Trump's pick to run the CIA, claiming Haspel's "refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."

McCain, who is home at his ranch in Arizona as he battles brain cancer, made the statement after Haspel testified in her confirmation on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning. McCain said Haspel had a chance to "explain her involvement in the so-called enhanced interrogation program during the Bush administration, and account for the mistakes the country made in torturing detainees held" after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Senator McCain has totally lost the sense of right or wrong as well as any sense of proportionality.

First of all, what the CIA did to terrorists was not torture. Torture is permanent damage to parts of your body. John McCain was bayoneted in the stomach and foot. Water boarding, while certainly unpleasant, is nothing like being bayoneted.

John McCain was also a prisoner of war, entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

The 9/11 terrorists were not in uniform and were specifically intending to kill large number of civilians. That made them entitled to no protections at all.

Furthermore, after thousands of Americans were killed in 9/11, there was concern about other possible mega-attacks on American soil. Under those circumstances President Bush was fully reasonable in authorizing enhanced interrogations and Gina Haspel, in whatever capacity, was justified in carrying them out.

But John McCain doesn't seem to understand any of this context or distinctions. He equates the CIA, which was trying to protect American lives, with the brutal North Vietnamese. He equates being bayoneted with being water boarded. He equated uniformed soldiers with terrorists who blend in and target civilians.

I know that Senator McCain is very ill and it's not politically correct to criticize him, but I think by putting a statement out against Gina Haspel, he opens himself up to legitimate criticism. And I think that the North Vietnamese broke Senator McCain, making him unable to see the difference between torture and interrogation, and between soldiers and terrorists, and it's sad that one of his final acts in politics is to try to cripple the CIA by torpedoing Ms. Haspel's nomination.

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