You might say that he was against it before he was for it before he was against it in a recent op-ed
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) surely deserves much of the credit he has received for his op-ed Thursday in The Washington Post in which he chided torture apologists for claiming that "enhanced interrogation" led American intelligence officials to Osama bin Laden. It is no small thing for him to have spoken out on the topic against former Bush officials, and many active partisans in his own party, and it will be much harder now going forward for any reasonable person to make the cynical claim.
But there is a difference between calling out people for lying about a form of torture in a particular instance, as Sen. McCain did in focusing upon Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and being wholly against torture as a national policy and practice. And so even as many of us herald the senior senator from Arizona for his political courage this week we should at the same time remember that it is the very same Sen. McCain, of all people, who has been consistently cagey over the years about where he really stands on torture.
You might say that he was against it before he was for it before he was against it. And that ambiguity was reflected in the second paragraph of Thursday's piece. Sen. McCain wrote:
Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.
This is a lawyer's paragraph if there ever were one. Much of the debate over torture is "definitional" (rather than, say, "moral") because politicians like Sen. McCain have made it so. Definitions famously allow for leeway, after all, morality famously does not. Among other things, what this graph reminds us is that Sen. McCain still believes that: 1) Waterboarding is against the law; 2) "Some" other "enhanced interrogation" techniques are still legal, and; 3) What is "prohibited by American laws" can remain murky. Some of those "enhanced" techniques, the whole world now knows, can be just as brutal as the "simulated death" contemplated by waterboarding. Remember the drill-to-the-head story? How about the CIA Torture Report?