Commentary: John McCain knows why torture doesn't work

The death of Osama bin Laden has revived, in some circles, a debate over whether the United States should engage in waterboarding and other forms of torture to elicit information from enemy prisoners.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war in North Vietnam from 1967 to 1973 and today's top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is well-placed to put the kibosh on that. In a major speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week, he re-emerged as the top defender of long-standing U.S. values in the handling of detainees.

To begin, McCain insists that waterboarding did not yield the intelligence that years later led to the finding of bin Laden. For that, he cites a letter from CIA chief Leon Panetta, published in the Washington Post: "In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier's full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means."

But, as McCain points out, to focus on whether torture "works or doesn't work" to elicit information misses the larger point – and the important issue for the United States in the future.

The real question for Americans is this: Even if torture does elicit some bits of information, should the United States engage in it? And there McCain shouts a consistent and clear "No." Torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, he states unequivocally, is morally wrong.

In the end, to McCain, this debate is about our "national character and historical reputation" and we ought not to give in to the rationalizations and sentiments of the moment to stray from core American values.

To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.