How One Of John McCain's Final Acts Makes A Powerful Statement Against Torture

McCain is said to be near death, but he's still waging war.

Arizona Sen. John McCain made a startling statement on Twitter Wednesday night: he would oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel for director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Haspel, who may become the first woman to head the agency in the United States' history, has come under fire for her role in the use and coverup of "enhanced interrogation techniques" at a CIA prison in Thailand. McCain, a staunch Republican who many assumed was a lock to support Haspel's nomination, experienced torture when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

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"I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country & has devoted her professional life to its service & defense," McCain wrote on Twitter. "However, her role in overseeing the use of torture is disturbing & her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."

What makes McCain's opposition even more dramatic, though, is the context: he's currently battling brain cancer and this decision could be the last significant one of his political career. According to Axios, longtime friends of McCain are being told, "this is the time to go pay last respects." 

"I know that those who used enhanced interrogation methods and those who approved them wanted to protect Americans from harm," McCain wrote in a lengthier statement he released. "I appreciate their dilemma and the strain of their duty. But as I have argued many times, the methods we employ to keep our nation safe must be as right and just as the values we aspire to live up to and promote in the world."

When Haspel oversaw the enhanced interrogation methods, modes of torture that were used were not illegal but still considered by many to be morally reprehensible. During her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, which prompted McCain's tweet, Haspel seemed to oscillate between promises that she would not reinstate the use of torture and refusal to say that the decisions she made in the post-9/11 era were inappropriate or wrong. 

"Senator, I don't believe that torture works," Haspel responded to a question from Sen. Kamala Harris. "I believe that in the CIA's program — and I'm not attributing this to enhanced interrogation techniques — I believe … that valuable information was obtained from senior Al Qaeda operatives that allowed us to defend this country and prevent another attack."

John McCain, seen here on September 23, 2015, during a meeting with President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. Photo Credit: Drop of Light / Shutterstock.com

In 2016, Sen. McCain helped add an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that prohibited the use of any interrogation methods not in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3. Some of those prohibited methods include waterboarding, a technique Haspel oversaw the use of three separate times while overseeing the CIA prison in Thailand. During her hearing, Haspel repeatedly said she would follow the Army Field Manual while also seemingly refusing to address whether she felt that enhanced interrogation methods were immoral when she used them. 

"I believe very strongly in American values and America being an example to the rest of the world. That is why I support the fact that we have chosen to hold ourselves to a stricter moral standard," Haspel said. "My moral compass is strong ... My parents raised me right. I know the difference between right and wrong ... I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal."

While Haspel still appears to have the votes to be confirmed, McCain's dramatic decision to oppose her nomination could push other Republicans into the "no" column. Sen. Jeff Flake has already said that Sen. McCain's statement is a factor in his decision and he is undecided

Cover image: Krista Kennell / Shutterstock.com

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