[Congressional Record: May 12, 2011 (Senate)]
[Page S2897-S2900]

                             USE OF TORTURE

  Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, the successful end of the 10-year manhunt 
to bring Osama bin Laden to justice has appropriately heightened the 
Nation's appreciation for the diligence, patriotism, and courage of our 
Armed Forces and our intelligence community. They are a great credit 
and inspiration to the country that has asked so much of them and, like 
all Americans, I am in their debt.
  But their success has also reignited debate over whether the so-
called enhanced interrogation techniques of enemy prisoners, including 
waterboarding, were instrumental in locating bin Laden and whether they 
are necessary and justifiable means for securing valuable information 
that might help prevent future terrorist attacks against us and our 
allies and lead to the capture or killing of those who would perpetrate 
them. Or are they, and should they be, prohibited by our conscience and 
laws as torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
  I believe some of these practices--especially waterboarding, which is 
a mock execution, and thus to me indisputably torture--are and should 
be prohibited in a nation that is exceptional in its defense and 
advocacy of human rights. I believe they are a violation of the 
Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, 
and Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, all of which forbid 
cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of all captured combatants, 
whether they wear the uniform of a country or are essentially 
  I opposed waterboarding and similar so-called enhanced interrogation 
techniques before Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, and I oppose 
them now. I do not believe they are necessary to our success in our war 
against terrorists, as the advocates of these techniques claim they 
  Even more importantly, I believe that if America uses torture, it 
could someday result in the torture of American combatants. Yes, I know 
al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations do not share our scruples 
about the treatment of enemy combatants, and have and will continue to 
subject American soldiers and anyone they capture to the cruelest 
mistreatment imaginable. But we must bear in mind the likelihood that 
someday we will be involved in a more conventional war against a state 
and not a terrorist movement or insurgency and be careful that we do 
not set a standard that another country could use to justify their 
mistreatment of our prisoners.
  Lastly, it is difficult to overstate the damage that any practice of 
torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by Americans does to 
our national character and historical reputation--to our standing as an 
exceptional nation among the countries of the world. It is too grave to 
justify the use of these interrogation techniques. America has made its 
progress in the world not only by avidly pursuing our geopolitical 
interests, but by persuading and inspiring other nations to embrace the 
political values that distinguish us. As I have said many times before, 
and still maintain, this is not about the terrorists. It is about us.
  I understand the reasons that govern the decision to approve these 
interrogation methods, and I know those who approved them and those who 
employed them in the interrogation of captured terrorists were 
admirably dedicated to protecting the American people from harm. I know 
they were determined to keep faith with the victims of terrorism and to 
prove to our enemies that the United States would pursue justice 
tirelessly, relentlessly, and successfully, no matter how long it took. 
I know their responsibilities were grave and urgent, and the strain of 
their duty was considerable. I admire their dedication and love of 
country. But I dispute that it was right to use these methods, which I 
do not believe were in the best interests of justice or our security or 
the ideals that define us and which we have sacrificed much to defend.
  I do not believe anyone should be prosecuted for having used these 
techniques in the past, and I agree that the administration should 
state definitively that no one will be. As one of the authors of the 
Military Commissions Act, which I believe prohibits waterboarding and 
other ``enhanced interrogation techniques,'' we wrote into the language 
of the law that no one who used them before the enactment of the law 
should be prosecuted. I do not think it is helpful or wise to revisit 
that policy.

  Many advocates of these techniques have asserted their use on 
terrorists in our custody, particularly Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 
revealed the trail to bin Laden--a trail which had gone cold in recent 
years but would now lead to his destruction. The former Attorney 
General of the United States, Michael Mukasey, recently claimed that 
``the intelligence that led to bin Laden . . . began with a disclosure 

[[Page S2898]]

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of 
harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a 
torrent of information--including eventually the nickname of a trusted 
courier of bin Laden.'' That is false.
  With so much misinformation being fed into such an essential public 
debate as this one, I asked the Director of Central Intelligence, Leon 
Panetta, for the facts, and I received the following information:
  The trail to bin Laden did not begin with a disclosure from Khalid 
Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times. We did not first learn 
from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed the real name of bin Laden's courier, or 
his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti--the man who ultimately enabled us to 
find bin Laden. The first mention of the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, as 
well as a description of him as an important member of al-Qaida, came 
from a detainee held in another country. The United States did not 
conduct this detainee's interrogation, nor did we render him to that 
country for the purpose of interrogation. We did not learn Abu Ahmed's 
real name or alias as a result of waterboarding or any ``enhanced 
interrogation technique'' used on a detainee in U.S. custody. None of 
the three detainees who were waterboarded provided Abu Ahmed's real 
name, his whereabouts, or an accurate description of his role in al-
  In fact, not only did the use of ``enhanced interrogation 
techniques'' on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on 
bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and 
misleading information. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed specifically told his 
interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar, got married, and 
ceased his role as an al-Qaida facilitator--which was not true, as we 
now know. All we learned about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti through the use of 
waterboarding and other ``enhanced interrogation techniques'' against 
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the confirmation of the already known fact 
that the courier existed and used an alias.
  I have sought further information from the staff of the Senate 
Intelligence Committee, and they confirmed for me that, in fact, the 
best intelligence gained from a CIA detainee--information describing 
Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti's real role in al-Qaida and his true relationship 
to Osama bin Laden--was obtained through standard, noncoercive means, 
not through any ``enhanced interrogation technique.''
  In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading 
treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately 
enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden. I hope 
former Attorney General Mukasey will correct his misstatement. It is 
important that he do so because we are again engaged in this important 
debate, with much at stake for America's security and reputation. Each 
side should make its own case but do so without making up its own 
  For my part, I would oppose any legislation, if any should be 
proposed, that is intended to authorize the administration to return to 
the use of waterboarding or other methods of interrogation that I 
sincerely believe are torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading, and as 
such unworthy of and injurious to our country. This debate is ongoing, 
but I do not believe it will lead to a change in current policy 
prohibiting these methods.
  Perhaps this is a debate for the history books. But it is still 
important because Americans in a future age, as well as their leaders, 
might face these same questions. We should do our best to provide them 
a record of our debates and decisions that is notable not just for its 
passion but for its deliberativeness and for opinions that were formed 
by facts, and formed with scrupulous care by both sides for the 
security of the American people and the success of the ideals we 
cherish. We have a duty to leave future American generations with a 
history that will offer them not confusion but instruction as they face 
their crises and challenges and try to lead America safely and 
honorably through them. Both sides cannot be right, of course, but both 
sides can be honest, diligent, and sincere.
  Let me briefly elaborate my reasons for opposing the return to these 
interrogation policies.
  Obviously, to defeat our enemies we need intelligence, but 
intelligence that is reliable. We should not torture or treat 
inhumanely terrorists we have captured. I believe the abuse of 
prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort. In my personal experience, 
the abuse of prisoners sometimes produces good intelligence but often 
produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say 
anything he thinks his captors want to hear--whether it is true or 
false--if he believes it will relieve his suffering. Often, information 
provided to stop the torture is deliberately misleading, and what the 
advocates of cruel and harsh interrogation techniques can never prove 
is that we could not have gathered the same intelligence through other 
more humane means--as a review of the facts provides solid reason to be 
confident that we can. The costs of assuming otherwise can be hugely 

  It has been reported, and the staff of the Senate Intelligence 
Committee confirms for me, that a man named Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi had 
been captured by the United States and rendered to Egypt where we 
believe he was tortured and provided false and misleading information 
about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program. That false 
information was ultimately included in Secretary of State Colin 
Powell's statement to the U.N. Security Council and, I assume, helped 
influence the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.
  Furthermore, I think it is supremely unfair to the men and women in 
our intelligence community and military who labored for a decade to 
locate Osama bin Laden to claim falsely that they only succeeded 
because we used torture to extract actionable intelligence from a few 
detainees several years ago. I have not found evidence to suggest that 
torture--or since so much of our disagreement is definitional, 
interrogation methods that I believe are torture and which I believe 
are prohibited by U.S. law and international treaty obligations we are 
not just a party to but leading advocates of--played an important part 
in finding and killing bin Laden. Rather, I think his death at the 
hands of the United States argues quite the contrary, that we can 
succeed without resort to these methods.
  It is also the case that the mistreatment of enemy prisoners 
endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive. While some 
enemies, and al-Qaida surely, will never be bound by the principle of 
reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by 
more conventional enemies if not in this war then in the next. Until 
about 1970, North Vietnam ignored its obligations not to mistreat the 
Americans they held prisoner, claiming that we were engaged in an 
unlawful war against them and thus not entitled to the protections of 
the Geneva Conventions. But when their abuses became widely known and 
incited unfavorable international attention, they subsequently 
decreased their mistreatment of our POWs.
  Some have argued if it is right to kill bin Laden, then it should 
also be right to torture him had he been captured rather than killed. I 
disagree. First, the Americans who killed bin Laden were on a military 
mission against the leader of a terrorist organization with which we 
are at war. It was not a law enforcement operation or primarily an 
intelligence operation. They could not be certain that bin Laden, even 
though he was unarmed, did not possess some means of harming them--a 
suicide vest, for instance--and they were correctly instructed to take 
no unnecessary chances in the completion of their mission.
  Second, bin Laden was a mass murderer. Had we captured him, he would 
have eventually received the ultimate sanction for his terrible crimes, 
as captured war criminals in previous wars have. But war criminals 
captured, tried, and executed in World War II, for instance, were not 
tortured in advance of their execution, either in retaliation for their 
crimes or to elicit information that might have helped us locate, 
apprehend, and convict other war criminals. This was not done because 
civilized nations have long made a distinction between killing and 
injuring in the heat of combat, on the one hand, and the deliberate 
infliction of physical torture on an incapacitated fighter on the 
  This distinction is recognized not only in longstanding American 

[[Page S2899]]

and practices but also in the Geneva Conventions that provide legal 
protections for our own fighting men and women.
  All of these arguments have the force of right but, ultimately, even 
they are beside the most important point. There are many arguments to 
be made against torture on practical grounds. As I have said, I believe 
torture produces unreliable information, hinders our fight against 
global terrorism, and harms our national interest and reputation. But, 
ultimately, this debate is about far more than technical or practical 
issues. It is about far more than whether torture works or does not 
work. It is about far more than utilitarian matters.
  Ultimately, this is about morality. What is at stake is the very idea 
of America--the America whose values have inspired the world and 
instilled in the hearts of its citizens the certainty that no matter 
how hard we fight, no matter how dangerous our adversary, in the course 
of vanquishing our enemies, we do not compromise our deepest values. We 
are America, and we hold our ourselves to a higher standard. That is 
what is at stake.
  Although 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 the ideology of violent extremism. Prisoner abuses exact a 
terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become 
public, and when they do they threaten our moral standard and expose us 
to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more 
inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes.
  I understand that Islamic extremists who resort to terror would 
destroy us utterly if they could obtain the weapons to do so. But to 
defeat them utterly, we must also prevail in our defense of the 
universal values that ultimately have the greatest power to eradicate 
this evil ideology.
  Although it took a decade to find him, there is one consolation for 
bin Laden's 10-year evasion of justice. He lived long enough to see 
what some are calling the Arab spring, the complete repudiation of bin 
Laden's world view and the cruel disregard for human life and human 
dignity he used to advance it. In Egypt and Tunisia, Arabs successfully 
reclaimed their rights from autocracies to determine their own destiny 
without resort to violence or the deliberate destruction of innocent 
life. Now Arabs are trying valiantly, by means as just as their cause, 
to do the same in Syria and elsewhere.
  As the United States discusses and debates what role we should play 
to influence the course of the Arab spring, can we not all agree that 
the first and most obvious thing we can do is stand as an example of a 
just government and equal justice under the law, as a champion of the 
idea that an individual's human rights are superior to the will of the 
majority or the wishes of the government?
  Individuals might forfeit their life and liberty as punishment for 
breaking laws, but even then, as recognized in our Constitution's 
prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, they are still entitled to 
respect for their basic human dignity, even if they have denied that 
respect to others.
  I do not 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 have earned their terrible punishment in this life and the next. 
What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official 
neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage those who fight this war for us 
to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest 
strength; that when we fight to defend our security, we also fight for 
an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted 
interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are 
endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.
  It is indispensable to our success in this war that those we ask to 
fight it know that in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities 
to our country, they are never expected to forget they are Americans 
and the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should be 
governed and conduct their relations with others--even our enemies.
  Those of us who have given them this onerous duty are obliged by our 
history and the many terrible sacrifices that have been made in our 
defense to make clear to them that they need not risk our country's 
honor to prevail, that they are always--through the violence, chaos, 
and heartache of war, through deprivation, cruelty and loss they are 
always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who 
would destroy us.
  Mr. President, I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Udall of New Mexico). The majority leader 
is recognized.
  Mr. REID. Mr. President, in 1982, I was elected to the U.S. House of 
Representatives. I was elected along with the now-senior Senator from 
the State of Arizona, John McCain. We were both part of that class of 
  I have given a lot of speeches on this Senate floor. So has my friend 
from Arizona and so have all of us. Frankly, most of the speeches we 
give may have a little bite for a day or two. But the speech just given 
by my friend, the senior Senator from Arizona, will be forever 
remembered in our country and in this body.
  Senator McCain and I have had our differences over the years. That 
does not take away from the fact that we are friends. We love 
prizefighting, and we love our States that are neighbors, Arizona and 
Nevada. He has an admirable record representing his party and running 
for the Presidency of the United States and chairman of a number of 
committees during his tenure in the Senate. We came to the Senate 
together, in addition to the House of Representatives.
  I want the record to reflect my admiration and respect--as I believe 
the whole Senate's respect--for the speech given by this fine man from 
Arizona. No one in the Senate--no one, without any qualification--could 
have given the speech that was given today. Why? Because he speaks with 
knowledge--personal knowledge--that I am sure he still remembers in 
those dark nights when he is trying to rest about his having been 
tortured. Here is a man who, after having been tortured brutally, 
solitary confinement for not a week, not a month but years, was given 
permission by the North Vietnamese to go home: We will let you go home.
  He said: I am not going home unless I go home with my colleagues who 
are in prison with me. Think about that--that concentration camp, 
  I wish I had the ability to express in words my admiration for what 
he has just said because the things we do when it comes to our evil 
enemy, to say that all holds are barred does not work. The easy thing 
to do would be to say we should treat them as poorly as they treat us. 
But it takes a resume and courage to stand and speak as my friend from 
Arizona did today.
  Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, may I thank my very honorable friend and 
adversary for his kind remarks. I will always remember them. I thank 
  Mr. REID. Mr. President, I will end my remarks today by reading three 
paragraphs from an op-ed that is running all over the country today, in 
newspapers all over America, an op-ed written by Senator John McCain:

       As we debate how the United States can best influence the 
     course of the Arab Spring, can't we all agree that the most 
     obvious thing we can do is stand as an example of a nation 
     that holds an individual's human rights as superior to the 
     will of the majority or the wishes of government? Individuals 
     might forfeit their life as punishment for breaking laws, but 
     even then, as recognized in our Constitution's prohibition of 
     cruel and unusual punishment, they are still entitled to 
     respect for their basic human dignity, even if they have 
     denied that respect to others.
       All of these arguments have the force of right, but they 
     are beside the most important point. Ultimately, this is more 
     than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is 
     about who we are.
       I don't mourn the loss of any terrorist's life. What I do 
     mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official 
     neglect we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for 
     us to forget the best sense of ourselves.
       Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through 
     deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, 
     and different, stronger and better than those who would 
     destroy us.

  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Rhode Island is recognized.
  Mr. REED. Mr. President, I will speak in morning business. Before I 

[[Page S2900]]

that, I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the Senator from 
Nevada in paying tribute to the Senator from Arizona. Senator McCain's 
words were both eloquent and profound, and they reflect not only his 
strong beliefs but his own personal experience and also reflect 
something else that has been consistent in everything he has done in 
the Senate; that is, his respect and deep regard for the men and women 
of the military services. His reflections today remind us of what they 
have done and of the high standards of conduct they expect of 
themselves and that we have to recognize also. Again, I join Senator 
Reid in saluting Senator McCain for his words but, as he does so many 
times, for also being the conscience of the Senate on so many important