Sen. McCain: Torture Did Not Lead Us To Bin Laden, And It Undermines Our National Character

May 12, 2011 11:10 am ET — Alan Pyke

In recent weeks, a parade of prominent conservatives have defended the Bush administration's  "enhanced interrogation" program by asserting that it led us to Osama bin Laden. This morning on the Senate floor, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) flatly rejected that claim, and offered a passionate rebuke to anyone who thinks torture is a good idea or a legitimate strategy for combating terrorism.

McCain's speech expanded on his op-ed, published this morning about the facts of the bin Laden hunt and the counterproductive role torture played in that pursuit. After explaining that CIA Director Leon Panetta told him that the break in the case did not come from waterboarding and "in fact, the use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information," McCain explained the dangers of torture in more abstract, but no less important, terms:

Though Osama bin Laden is dead, America remains at war, and to prevail in this war we need more than victories on the battlefield.  This is a war of ideas as well, a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that feeds an ideology of violent extremism.  Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. [...]

I don't mourn the loss of any terrorist's life, nor do I care if in the course of serving their malevolent cause they suffer great harm. They've earned their punishment in this life and the next. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves, which is our greatest strength: That when we fight to defend our security, we also fight for an idea. Not a land, not a tribe, not a king. Not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but an idea: That all men are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.

It remains to be seen whether McCain's words will penetrate the right-wing misinformation about bin Laden's capture, let alone the Jack Bauer media representations of torture as a righteous tool for defending the country.

UPDATE: Take 20 minutes and watch the whole speech: