Senator John McCain was the only Republican Senator to vote against the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel earlier this week, citing Steven Engel’s previous work on “enhanced interrogation techniques” under the George W. Bush administration.
McCain, in a statement to Politico, said that “I cannot in good conscience vote for any nominee who in any way has supported the use of enhanced interrogation.” The comment was prompted by Engel’s statement during his confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week. There he said he had “reviewed and commented” on the original memo in 2007 which approved the now-infamous enhanced interrogation techniques, which many critics say is simply a euphemism for torture.
“Mr. Engel reviewed and commented on this memo, which attempted to justify interrogation techniques that violate the Geneva Conventions and stain our national honor,” McCain said. McCain has long been an outlier among his party in his adamant opposition to any forms of torture or enhanced interrogation. Being a survivor of over five years in a Prisoner of War camp where he was subjected to routine abuse and torture that left him permanently disabled, McCain is perhaps the most uniquely qualified member of Congress to ever comment on the issue of torture.
The issue over enhanced interrogation was reignited during the 2016 presidential campaign, when then-candidate Trump voiced strong support for bringing back the controversial methods, which have since been made illegal. Even after he was elected, Trump continued to voice his support saying in an interview that,
I want to keep our country safe… When they’re chopping off the heads of people because they happen to be a Christian in the Middle East, when ISIS is doing things that nobody has ever heard of since medieval times, would I feel strongly about waterboarding? As far as I’m concerned, we have to fight fire with fire.”
Although waterboarding has not come up since the campaign, McCain has drawn a line in the sand over the issue with Trump. “I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do, or anybody else wants to do — we will not waterboard, we will not torture,” McCain told an audience in New York in 2016. “My friends, it doesn’t work. If you inflict enough pain on somebody long enough, they’re going to tell you whatever they think you want to hear to get it to stop.”
Featured image shows John McCain being interviewed shortly after returning home from being a POW. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.