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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan May 19, 2008

Waterboarding one aspect of larger measure has targeted Sen. John McCain in a lengthy 10-point e-mail it sent to supporters, urging them to forward it to everyone they know.

In its third point, MoveOn brought up the issue of torture:

"His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban," the e-mail states.

We'll agree with MoveOn that McCain is known as a vocal opponent of torture. He is the rare elected official who has personal experience on this issue: He was tortured when he was a prisoner of war for 5 years in Vietnam.

McCain has also been persistent in arguing that waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning, is torture. "It's in violation of the Geneva Conventions. It's in violation of existing law," he said at a November 2007 debate in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Bush administration, however, has said that waterboarding is legal under certain circumstances. (It will not specify publicly what those circumstances are.)

The Central Intelligence Agency has publicly acknowledged waterboarding. Michael Hayden, head of the CIA, said three people have been waterboarded since Sept. 11, 2001, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, thought to be the mastermind behind the attacks. The CIA has not waterboarded anyone for the past five years, Hayden said.

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MoveOn's e-mail claiming that McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding refers to a measure passed in February 2008 that would have forced the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual, which specifically forbids waterboarding, as well as other actions: forcing a detainee to perform sexual acts or pose sexually, placing hoods over the heads of detainees, threatening detainees with dogs, or using temperature extremes to cause physical trauma, among other things.

McCain opposed the measure on the grounds that the CIA should not have to follow the same guidelines as the Army, and it should have the flexibility to use valid techniques not mentioned in the field manual, McCain said.

"None of those techniques would entail violating the Detainee Treatment Act, which said that cruel, inhumane and degrading treatments are prohibited," he told reporters in February, defending his vote.

Before his vote, McCain had praised the standards set out in the field manual. "I would hope that we would understand, my friends, that life is not 24 and Jack Bauer," McCain said at the debate in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Life is interrogation techniques which are humane and yet effective. And I just came back from visiting a prison in Iraq. The army general there said that the techniques under the Army Field Manual are working and working effectively, and he didn't think they need to do anything else."

MoveOn's statement that the bill McCain opposed "bans waterboarding" is a problematic summation. The bill would have banned waterboarding as one of its effects, but it also would have made other changes to how the CIA conducts interrogations and required the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual. It was not a straightforward up-or-down vote on waterboarding alone.

It's true that McCain voted against the measure, it passed anyway and Bush vetoed it. We couldn't find any examples of McCain going out of his way to congratulate Bush. Given the many nuances of the bill, we find MoveOn's claim to be Half True.


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