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April 24th, 2009
09:17 AM ET

McCain warns against torture prosecutions

 Sen. John McCain disagrees with any possible prosecutions over the release of Bush-era torture memos.
Sen. John McCain disagrees with any possible prosecutions over the release of Bush-era torture memos.

The Defense Department will release "a substantial number" of photographs of alleged prison abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The new photographs could change the course of the political uproar over allegations of torture during the Bush era. Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder went before Congress and weighed in on holding accountable the people who approved techniques like waterboarding.

“I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility, as the attorney general, to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law. If I see evidence of wrongdoing, I will pursue it to the full extent of the law.”

Former Presidential Candidate and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has called waterboarding “torture” in the past, but he disagrees with prosecuting any former Bush administration officials. He spoke with Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Friday about any such prosecutions, saying they would set a “terrible precedent for the future.”

Kiran Chetry: What do you say to the Bush administration officials who call waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” and say it doesn’t cause any real harm?

John McCain: Well, I disagree. And that’s why we passed a thing called the “Detainee Treatment Act,” which prohibits cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. And the Geneva Conventions, which is for the treatment not only of uniformed but also enemy combatants, prohibits such treatment as well. But the point is, now, it's time to move on. The president went to the CIA and said people who were engaged in that would not be held responsible... We should move on. And to go back and hold people criminally liable for their best legal advice they gave to the President of the United States is unacceptable to me.

Chetry: Paul Krugman wrote in “The New York Times” that the "only way we can regain our moral compass... is to investigate how this happened and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible... We need to do this for the sake of our future... It's about reclaiming America's soul." What about that morality question that while it may be a bad political fight, it's something we have to do?

McCain: I'm not talking about political fights. I'm talking about the fact that people who give their best legal advice, even if it's wrong, being held criminally liable. That's what they do in banana republics, not in the United States of America. This has been investigated. The Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report and there’ve been other memos which have been revealed. Everybody knows what happened. To go back again would be an act of political vengeance and America doesn't need that right now.

Chetry: There's been talk about whether or not more memos coming out will make America less safe, that theywill play into the hands of our enemies. Do you think the more we talk about this and the more it comes out we put our national security at risk?

McCain: Well, I think there’s a time for closure. There is a time for closure on everything. President Ford pardoned Former President Nixon. That was strongly disagreed with by the liberal left at the time, yet, turned out historically to be the right thing to do. It's time to bring closure. We know about it. We know, in my view, it was wrong to do. But now to say that you're going to tell lawyers that they're going to be prosecuted criminally for the best advice, even if it was bad advice, that they gave the President of the United States, to my mind, sets a terrible precedent for the future.

Chetry: You talk about closure. Your former chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, gave a pretty candid interview to "Politico" about your presidential campaign. He said, “When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall I knew pretty much right away that… from an electoral strategy perspective, the campaign was finished.” Did you also feel that way at the time?

McCain: Oh no. What Steve was saying and what we all knew was we were three points ahead in the polls and we dropped to 7 to 10 points down after the stock market collapsed. Obviously, the economy had a huge effect. We fought to the last hour of the last day and I'm very proud of my campaign and I'm very grateful for Steve and all of our team.

Chetry: How did you find that strength? Because you were out there day after day, event after event, when all indications pointed to the fact it was quite an uphill battle.

McCain: Well, I faced an uphill battle in securing the nomination. I faced other uphill battles in my life. The great honor of my life was to receive the nomination of the Republican Party and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have served as the nominee and I'll never forget it.

Chetry: Your daughter Meghan is finding her political voice. She was on "The View" yesterday and she is an eloquent young lady. She talked about torture and gay marriage and the Republican Party being scared of change. What do you think about some of her criticism to the GOP?

McCain: I think I love and respect my daughter and I appreciate the fact that she brings fresh views and ideas and we need that in our party. And we don't always agree and sometimes we have spirited discussions and that is good in families.

Chetry: She is a future maverick in training?

McCain: [laughing] Maybe. Maybe.

Filed under: Politics
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Mitchel

    In regards to prosecuting Bush and Cheney and all the former administration for the decisions that they made after 9/11, it is a really bad idea. I know that some people hate Bush and Cheney so much that they would love to have them publicly hanged, but this will hurt our country on the domestic and foreign policy level for years to come. I think our country is becoming ever more seduced and run by extremist on both ends of the political, and ideological spectrum. Before I say what the end result is, let me say that in defense of Bush...he did what he thought was best for our safety at the time. We can argue all day about whether it was right morally, and its' affects on foreign policy, but we must remember how all of us were furious at the people who made this against us. We ALL wanted revenge. I remember lots of Muslim hate at the time too. He is human, and was in charge of protecting us all. Mistakes were made, but we were no worse than many
    countries in the past or even the present.

    All countries do nasty things for "needs of state". It's a dirty business, and we seem to love to "air" our dirty works- unlike China, Russia...pick any country you want- and pass judgment, as if we are somehow Saints. All countries have done, and are doing, and will continue to do, nasty things to keep their countries intact, and the population happy and safe. Or in the case of more Authoritarian counties, they do it to keep their power.

    Humans live under certain Darwinistic principles, and to ignore them is to become extinct. It is a "jungle" out there, and no one cares about us really. They all only really care about their own "needs of state". Other countries love how we are now masochistic in our behavior, because it makes us their "whipping boy", and gives them "justified reasoning" to hurt us in the future. We are actually weakening our country now by this desire to play "Monday morning Quarterback". It will have a profound affect on our ability to make sound foreign policy decisions, and have respect among other nations ( Not to mention our safety. ). It is time to move forward folks, not backwards.

    I wish the sane moderates in this country would finally stand up, and say ENOUGH~! Let's not let the extreme left and right run us into the ground. Because, if we let them, then they will surely do it.

    God bless America, and take care all.

    April 26, 2009 at 4:54 am |
  2. Benjamin

    Ignorance of the law does not exempt you from the law and neither does being an employee of the federal government. I don't care if these people were acting on the "best" legal advice given to them, they still broke the law. And in America, we try and punish lawbreakers. They shrug their shoulders and "move on" in "banana republics".

    This is just another in a long line of situations (Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky, torture memos, etc.) where the American citizens pay the price for Gerald Ford's ignorant and short-sighted pardon of Richard Nixon so we could all "move on". The system of law the protects us from the tyranny and oppression we fought free of in the American Revolution is being eroded as more and more federal government criminals from both sides of the isle escape accountability for their actions so we can "move on" as a country. I don't want to "move on" and neither do the good law abiding citizens of this country. The federal criminals in Washington who risk loosing their authoritarian power to destroy our liberties and freedoms want to "move on" to protect their own selfish interests.

    Drunk driving kills more citizens in this country than terrorism every year. I guarantee you if a small town sheriff was going around to bars, rounding up drunks, locking them away without trial, and using "enhanced interrogation" on them, no one would be saying we needed to "move on". The sheriff would be locked up forever or probably put to death. We can't ignore our laws in the pursuit of safety. We all want to feel safer when we go about our lives, but if we compromise in this instance, where does it end? Do we allow state governments use the same tactics? Local governments? Police? Schools? Do we widen the net? We don't just want to be safe from terrorists do we? We want to be safe from everything harmful. Guns are dangerous. Lets waterboard the gun dealers to find out who they sold to. Cars are dangerous. Lets round up the auto execs and get some "enhanced interrogation" going to find out why they want to kill us and what they're planning next. Is this really the world we want to live in?

    April 24, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  3. Greg & Matt in Houston

    Give me a break. If this had taken place under a Democratic Administration McCain would be building a new prison for the perps. I say indict them, try them, convict them and throw away the key. Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and Rice go first.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm |
  4. duh

    Do you people really believe that this is the only time something of this nature and magnitude has ever happened, (in terms of interrogation?), you will never hear about the methods used during the Cold War for suspected spies and "non-uniformed combatants", because that was OK!?

    Everybody needs to get off of their I will fix this country high horse ( you damn hippies turned yuppies!) I need to be loved by the world , wah, wah. ( grow some Cajones stand up for yourself, your freedom, your rights. Maintain the dreams and goals of this country taht so many have shed their blood for. get on the I WILL PROTECT THIS COUNTRY HIGH HORSE!! Why didn't all you liberals move to France like you promised when Bush got re-elected. (HIPOCRITES)

    April 24, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Jackie in Dallas

    Perhaps Senator McCain, having been tortured himself, is a good person to ask about this topic.

    While I disagree that the subject should be totally dropped (those who neglect history are doomed to repeat it), I don't see a lot of good to come from prosecuting the lower rank and file who performed the actions. The real targets should be those among the senior officers and senior executives who knowingly let it go on, even when it was shown to fall in the definition of torture. Those are the ones who SHOULD have known better, yet allowed it to continue.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm |
  6. Bob Scheuer

    How can John say that people who gave their best legal advice not be held responsible even if it was wrong.If I go to a tax lawyer and he wrongly tells me I no longer have to pay my taxes, which he swears is his best legal advice then nobody should held accountable when I stop paying my taxes right John ??????Unbelievable I find it so odd how they just want everyone to keep moving on and never investigate anything .I believe whole heartedly that everything from 9-11 right straight through all 8 years Bush was in office should be investigated.And when wrongdoing is found it should be prosecuted .No free rides for criminals!!!

    April 24, 2009 at 10:25 am |
  7. Dan Nelson

    OK lets say it was torture that we did on these terrorists and we stop but then we should put them to a speedy trial and convict them as criminals against humankind and put an IV to them and give them a merciful death! Then they can face God's judgment and burn in hell forever!

    April 24, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  8. John Cameron

    only exception to amnesty would be those who formulated the memo

    they would sit in the AG's hotseat

    when a man throws his hands up....his war is over for this old marine....where they take him after that and what happens to him had better be professional

    April 24, 2009 at 9:48 am |
  9. MJ Fisher

    McCain keeps saying "we know all this and that it has investigated...that is not true at all, and he knows it is not true. The public is shocked at all they are hearing, now as FACTS of what Bush did.
    I believe the Detainee Treatment Act that McCain mentions is the one that Bush immediately put a "signing statement" on – meaning he, Bush, again could do whatever he wanted to do.

    Bush/Cheney had begun the torture BEFORE the legal opinions were written justify what they were already doing.
    The Republicans want to sweep this under the rug.....funny how they went after President Clinton for a personal issue ...even had a BOOK written about it. Impeachment was okay the shoe is on the other foot.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:38 am |
  10. Fred Robinson


    You reap what you sow. Toss the individuals in a prison and make 'em waterboard too.

    Does John get you a coffee during a commercial break?

    Have a good weekend.


    April 24, 2009 at 9:28 am |