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Thursday, November 29, 2007
posted by Kyle Hampton | 5:49 PM | permalink
I've argued before that McCain is an ideologue - persisting in ideas regardless of facts. Of course even an ideologue can be right. Such an outcome is more the result of luck than anything else. The more likely result of blind adherence to ideas is failure. It is much more likely that a man like Mitt, through rigorous analysis of facts and arguments, will have the right answer.

Such is the case of the exchange between McCain and Romney over "waterboarding" last night. Most pundits praised McCain for his spirited stand on waterboarding, even as he got the facts wrong. From James Taranto at the OpinionJournal's Best of the Web:

This column likes and admires John McCain, but an exchange in last night's Republican debate reminds us why we are uneasy with the idea of his becoming president. McCain had an exchange with Mitt Romney on the subject of "waterboarding," an interrogation technique that the CIA is believed to have used to extract life-saving information from a few high-level al Qaeda terrorists. Romney has no clear position on whether waterboarding is "torture," but McCain does. He said:

"I am astonished that you would think such a--such a torture would be inflicted on anyone in our--who we are held captive and anyone could believe that that's not torture. It's in violation of the Geneva Convention. It's in violation of existing law.

"And, governor, let me tell you, if we're going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we have cherished and loved for more than 200 years. We're not going to torture people.

"We're not going to do what Pol Pot did. We're not going to do what's being done to Burmese monks as we speak."

Romney persisted in leaving his options open, and McCain replied:

"Well, then you would have to advocate that we withdraw from the Geneva Conventions, which were for the treatment of people who were held prisoners, whether they be illegal combatants or regular prisoners of war. Because it's clear the definition of torture."

McCain profoundly misunderstands the Geneva Conventions, which were designed to impose basic rules of warfare. Protecting those who ignore the rules is directly contrary to the purpose of the conventions.

The conventions did not in fact protect illegal combatants, and to the extent that they now do, it is the result only of activist judges--namely, the five justices who ruled last year, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that enemy combatants are entitled to some protections under the conventions' Common Article 3--which was written to apply to civil wars, not conflicts with international terrorist organizations. (For a full exposition, see our June 26 Wall Street Journal op-ed.)

It is true that it would be a violation of international law to torture even an al Qaeda terrorist. The relevant treaty, however, is not the Geneva Conventions but the Convention Against Torture, which imposes an absolute ban. If McCain doesn't know this, why is even Romney eager to credit him as some sort of authority? "Sen. McCain," Romney said, "I appreciate your strong response, and you have the credentials upon which to make that response."

McCain, of course, is supposed to have "moral authority" because, as a naval airman decades ago, he was tortured at the hands of his North Vietnamese communist captors. (By the way, were any of them ever tried for war crimes?) Moral authority, however, is not a substitute for accurate information.

Furthermore, it is a matter of controversy whether waterboarding constitutes torture. McCain's position is certainly a defensible one, but we find his instinct unsettling. There are going to be gray areas in the war on terror, and we'd rather have the man at the top be someone who, when faced with difficult questions, errs on the side of protecting American women and children from being murdered rather than protecting terrorists from being treated unpleasantly.


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Wow, what a blast at McCain's "Straight Talk". After seeing all the negative talk about Romney in the press, I doubt this will get much air time, though.

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