McCain’s torture should raise questions about his fitness to lead

John McCain did not deserve to be tortured.  Neither does anyone else – even putting aside the fact that it just doesn’t work.  The fact that he had to endure the physical and emotional suffering that he did – for more than five years – is a testament to the determination he showed during that terrible time in his life.

But that doesn’t make him more fit to lead the US military and exercise the measured, calculated, deliberative judgment that is required if that White House phone rings at 3AM.  Rather, it raises questions about whether his decision making ability is clouded (and if you listen to his republican Senate colleagues, it certainly isn’t for the better) by his experience.

Of course, John Kerry, who heroically served in Vietnam and receive Purple Hearts is a terrorist loving traitor, and the press will no doubt be just as fair to someone whose fellow soldiers in Vietnam remind us as the one who lost 5 US Navy aircraft and was a below average student in the Naval Academy.

Our own CIA declassified documents that were prepared in the 1960s that dealt with brainwashing and torture.  Other than the fact that there are “interrogation techniques” referred to as “torture” in these documents that are way less extreme than some that our own administration and much of the republican party thinks is just peachy keen, there are some interesting notes.

For starters, note the passage in bold regarding isolation.  John McCain spent approximately 2 years in solitary confinement.  That’s a helluva long time.  The CIA document referenced in the link above (the link in the diary is broken but if you play around with it, you can get to the entire document) has the following to say about isolation and the impact on a person subjected to it (emphasis mine):

A major aspect of his prison experience is isolation.  Man is a social animal; he does not live alone.  From birth to death, he lives in the company of his fellow man.  His relations with other people and, especially with those closest to him, are almost as important to him as food or drink.  When a man is totally isolated, he is removed from all of the interpersonal relations which are so important to him and taken out of the social role which sustains him.  His internal as well as his external life is disrupted.


After a few days it becomes apparent to the prisoner that his activity avails him nothing and that will he will be punished or reprimanded for even the smallest breaches of the routine.  His requests have been listened to but never acted upon.  He becomes docility of a trained animal.  Indeed, the guards say that prisoners are “reduced to animals”.  It is estimated that in the average case it takes from four to six weeks of rigid, total isolation to produce this phenomenon.

Four to six weeks in isolation will produce that.  John McCain was in isolation for two entire years.  And within those two years, he was also bound into painful positions with rope and beaten every two hours.

This is terrible to do to any human being and way more than McCain should have ever had to endure.  But it changed him.  That is a fact, not a guess.  And certainly not his fault, nor is it something that should be looked down or poorly upon.  Sadly, we have seen from the far too many of our troops who are coming back to the US with PTSD and a life that revolves around emotional or physical therapy as well as just trying to get through the day – let alone trying to piece their lives back together.

The long term effects of solitary confinement have been well documented, and there is little doubt that the torture that McCain endured had a profound effect on him, both short and long term.

There is, of course, the quote from none other than republican Senator Thad Cochran, who has known McCain for over 30 years:

“The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” Cochran said about McCain by phone. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”

Is there any doubt that McCain feels some level of anger, bitterness, holds a grudge or wants revenge for what was done to him?  Hell, I know I would.  I’d be permanently pissed off and looking for a fight – and I’m a pretty mild mannered guy.  But, do we want to have a Commander in Chief who is even more hawkish on foreign policy than Bush is?  On Iraq?  On Russia?  On China?  Someone who talks openly about more wars, especially at a time when we are hated around the world for our confrontational and reckless foreign policy, not to mention with troops already stretched to the breaking point?

It is extremely telling that McCain would not vote to outlaw torture, yet he tells 60 Minutes that torture is wrong and the US shouldn’t do it anymore.

Can we afford to have someone who endured such horrific treatment that has been well documented to have profound negative effects on their personality and judgment?  The fact that McCain served this country is admirable.  The fact that he was tortured is horrific and more than regrettable – in fact, it is inexcusable.

However, it is a fact that is far from helpful for someone that would be our Commander in Chief, even more so at this time in history, and who would be answering that hypothetical phone call at 3AM.


  1. This line of questioning is difficult. It will offend people who think “we should be above this” especially after John Kerry. The one thing McCain is unchallenged on is his service. Obama, for example, calls him a “war hero”. So, McCain’s strength must be challenged and questioned because that is what he’s running on.

    Apparently Robert Timberg wrote in The Nightingale’s Song that McCain attempted suicide after he was tortured and broken in Vietnam. )I’ve just gotten the book this week from the library and am beginning to read it.) McCain broke while his fellow prisoners that were tortured did not. Can McCain withstand the pressure of the presidency?

    • pfiore8 on March 13, 2008 at 5:01 am

    it’s fair and correct to challenge him.  it should be done with respect. this isn’t about making a mockery of his service. this should be an earnest attempt to understand his emotional state-of-mind and how he would handle the pressures of office etc.

    from my perspective, i see him as a dangerous man. self-serving, hypocritical, and dishonest. before he betrayed John Kerry, i thought he was an honorable man. i don’t think that anymore. now with his position on torture. well, frankly, it gives me the willies…

    but others think he’s a straight talker.  if we do it right, perhaps we can expose McCain’s weaknesses to even Democrats willing to vote for him (and good god, they are out there). but if we do it status quo, it all sounds the same… it’s all big noise and we don’t reach across any barriers.

    we need to elevate this process…

    • C Barr on March 13, 2008 at 6:39 am

    and caution.  But PTSD is real and there’s no way anybody could go through what McCain experienced without coming out damaged goods.  And PTSD makes a person more likely to over-react without thinking through the consequences.

    The reason that any of us are here reading this, is because years ago during the Cuban missile crisis, John Kennedy chose not to listen to the generals and his civilian advisors who clamored for him to launch the invasion fleet.  Instead he chose to pick up the phone.  History looks kindly on that choice, for otherwise history would have ended there.

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