What happened
Republican presidential candidate John McCain voted against a Senate bill that ordered the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to stick to 19 interrogation techniques laid out in the U.S. Army Field Manual, effectively blocking the agencies from using “waterboarding” and other harsh tactics on suspects. McCain, who was tortured as a Vietnam P.O.W., cosponsored a 2006 law that prohibited the military from using those same tactics, but he argued that the Senate bill unwisely applied military standards to intelligence services. He also said the bill is unnecessary because waterboarding and other techniques are already prohibited by law. (The Washington Post, free registration)
What commentators said
McCain’s vote against the torture bill was a “repugnant example of political pandering,” said Arianna Huffington in The Huffington Post. He was, of course, against extreme interrogation before he was for it, in a “desperate attempt to win over the lunatic fringe that is running the Grand Old Party.” We, and the fawning media, have to face the fact that McCain is no longer the “independent-thinking maverick” of 2000-03. And if that was unclear before, this “unconscionable capitulation" on torture certainly should “drive a stake through the heart of the McCain-as-straight-talker meme once and for all.”
Granted, McCain panders sometimes, said Nicholas Kristof in the International Herald Tribune. But at least he is “abysmal” at it. And despite his clumsy “weaves and bobs” as he pretends “to be more conservative than he is,” he at least “bends or breaks” his convictions only “out of desperation and with distaste.” Surely that’s “preferable to politicians who are congenital invertebrates.” That said, his “most heroic moment” was when he “led the battle against Dick Cheney on torture” in 2006, and it is sad that “he retreated on his brave stand” by voting against the bill.
The whole torture debate “stinks of political opportunism,” said Jonah Goldberg in National Review Online. "I don’t like waterboarding,” but the CIA used it for “less than five minutes” on “three awful men” and got important intelligence. Now, five years later, the Democrats are trying to paint Republicans as “pro-torture” if they vote against a bill that bans a distasteful technique we no longer use.
“In fairness,” said Christopher Beam in Slate’s Trailhead blog, the torture bill “was fixed to put McCain in a bind.” But if he is going to attack Barack Obama on changing positions on pubic campaign funds, the political nature of the bill “doesn’t stop Obama from raking McCain over the proverbial coals.” McCain’s “whole identity” is tied to “his opposition to torture,” and if push comes to shove, the Democratic nominee can now “always cite the day McCain voted against his own principles.”