By Brigitte L. Nacos
During the last Republican presidential debate, Ex-Governor Mitt Romney refused to characterize waterboarding as torture and said that as president he would consult experts like McCain on this question. According to the CNN transcript of the event, this was part of the ensuing exchange between Senator McCain and Romney :
McCain: Well, governor, I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is.
Romney: I know what waterboarding is, Senator.
McCain: Then I am astonished that you would think such a -- such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our -- who we are held captive and anyone could believe that that's not torture. It's in violation of the Geneva Convention. It's in violation of existing law...
And, governor, let me tell you, if we're going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years. We're not going to torture people.
We're not going to do what Pol Pot did. We're not going to do what's being done to Burmese monks as we speak. I suggest that you talk to retired military officers and active duty military officers like Colin Powell and others, and how in the world anybody could think that that kind of thing could be inflicted by Americans on people who are held in our custody is absolutely beyond me…
This unequivocal, passionate stand would have been more convincing, if the Senator had taken an equally forceful position vis-à-vis Michael B. Mukasey who also claimed to be clueless about waterboarding during his appearances before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Instead, McCain expressed repeatedly support for Mukasey’s confirmation as Attorney-General. McCain said at the time that he wanted Mukasey to say “that waterboarding was torture and illegal.” Of course, Mukasey refused to say that. But it seemed sufficient for McCain that Mukasey “said that he would get briefed on the procedures."
In short, Mukasey and Romney said exactly the same about waterboarding and
torture and consulting experts. But whereas the Senator lectured and condemned
Romney, he had no problem endorsing Mukasey as Attorney-General. Given Senator
McCain’s moral force on this particular issue, his opposition may have affected
the course of the confirmation process. The Senator did not vote, when the
Senate confirmed Mukasey.
Obviously, taking the moral high ground in defense of our values and laws depends on the political circumstances.
By the way, Senator McCain was not the only
presidential contender missing the Mukasey confirmation vote. Senators Biden,
Clinton, Dodd, and Obama were no-shows as well. Among these five, McCain missed 53.6% of all votes in the current session of Congress, Biden 35.4%;
Dodd 34.0%; Obama 33.7%, and Clinton only 18.4%.