How Much Did White House Give Up to Win Over McCain on Interrogations?

Did Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) win significant concessions from the Bush Administration on the CIA’s ability to use harsh interrogation techniques against hard-core terrorists?

McCain has certainly made it seem as if he was a big winner. He informed Matt Lauer on the "Today" show last Friday that as a result of the congressional negotiations with the White House, "There will be no such thing as water boarding. We outlined the grave breaches of conduct. And you will never see that again."

This past Sunday on CBS’ "Face the Nation," the Arizona senator still suggested "that waterboarding and other extreme measures" would not be allowed. But he appeared to couch his language in a more circumspect fashion. According to the CBS transcript, McCain’s response to a question on the compromise was this: "In concrete terms, it could mean that waterboarding and other extreme measures such as extreme deprivation—sleep deprivation, hypothermia and others would not be allowed."

McCain’s interpretation of the agreement could be crucial, for there is highly credible information that waterboarding and other methods he suggests should be banned work. On the September 20 "O’Reilly Factor," for instance, Brian Ross, ABC News’ chief investigative correspondent, informed host Bill O’Reilly that the CIA broke several "high valued [al Qaeda] leaders," using harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding.

According to Ross, waterboarding, which produces the sensation of drowning, was the method used to break Khalid Sheik Mohammed, considered the operational mastermind of 9/11. In his case, said Ross, "The information was very valuable, particularly names and addresses of people who were involved with al Qaeda in this country and in Europe. And in one particular plot, which would involve an airline attack on the tallest building in Los Angeles, known as the Library Tower."

Ross also said: ". . . with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, with people that absolutely beyond doubt are terrorists, terrorist masterminds, it does seem to have an effect. And that’s just the bottom line."

McCain, however, has let the world believe that waterboarding is immoral. More importantly, he strongly implies that he managed to wring from the White House a pledge that the CIA can no longer use this very effective tool against hard-core terrorists. The big question: Is he right?

Sign Up