John McCain seems to have finally come home. He does have a heart, and it is purple. He also apparently has recovered his memory, not only of the torture he endured at the hands of the Viet Cong, but also of his betrayal and swiftboating by George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign, before swiftboating had worked its way into the political lexicon.
McCain's disavowal not only of torture as effective or even morally acceptable was accompanied by the specific statement that “It was not torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.”
History is replete with nightmare accounts of torture, from Torquemada to the immolation of Jaques DeMolay to World War II (when American pilots involved in the Doolittle raid on Tokyo who failed to make it back to safe harbor were turned over to the Japanese to be put on display as part of a mock trial or, as we like to call them now, military tribunals).
McCain's purple heart was won at enormous expense and, for a long time, he enjoyed a certain insulation from Democrat barbs because he had been conveyed, due to his experience, a certain moral authority. We now know moral authority minus morality, like faith without works, is dead.
When McCain was betrayed by the draft-dodging, half-assed fake jet jockey George W. Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign, it seemed perhaps Bush would have a permanent thorn in his side in the Senate. But no, McCain was just as easily seduced as the rest of them on Capitol Hill and somehow managed to get past that disgraceful episode and not only support most of the Bush agenda for eight years, but defend it, then follow it up with a mind-boggling and extremely damaging politically pointless gesture in selecting Sarah Palin to run with him against Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
It looked as though the rumors were true: John McCain had lost his mind.
Well he must have bumped his head on something recently, and maybe it was a Tea Partier's tricorn hat. Something happened and for a moment at least, we have most of the old John McCain, the one we grudgingly admired before all that idiotic "maverick" babble, back.
Perhaps McCain watched "The Purple Heart," a classic 1944 propaganda movie that was extremely effective, and remembered that torture was once abominated by Americans, and that two whole generations had reviled the Japanese not only for their betrayal of and savage assault on the U.S., but that they had raised torture to a fine art. The film in question, starring Dana Andrews, Richard Contee, Richard Loo and a host of other hollywood luminaries, depicts the betrayal, capture, torture, mock trial and eventual conviction of the crew, ending with them being marched toward the site of their execution for war crimes.
Military tribunal scene from "The Purple Heart"
One watches this and remembers why American values can not include torture as simply "enhanced interrogation techniques." The very term is a perversion of human decency and the use of words to convey truth.
McCain fell short of a miracle, naturally, and did not call for an investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the waterboarding and other inhumane treatment of terrorist suspects at both GITMO and Abu Ghraib. That would be a bit much to expect from any Republican at this point, I feel certain. But he did denounce, in no uncertain terms, not only the use of torture as an interrogation device, but specifically dismissed the claims of Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Donald Rumsfeld and others that torture was a key element in the locating and killing of Osama Bin Laden. McCain's full statement before the Senate:
While I agree with very little of John McCain's political or world view, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and this statement before the Senate, even though it did not go the full distance, was a significant and powerful argument against the use of torture from someone who should have made the statement a long time ago, but has, instead, made it at a time when it carries perhaps the most weight: a time when the national discourse is one riddled with hate, suggestions of violence, and a generally un-American and extremely ugly undercurrent that must not be tolerated.That this statement comes when it does and from the source it comes from cannot be underestimated.
There will be those, just like some of my fellow left-leaners who relentlessly harangue us about Barack Obama's "failure" to do everything he might have done, who will say "It is still John McCain" and "Where was this McCain in 2008?" To them I would answer: This is now. Redemption has no shelf-life, no sell-by date, and that this eloquent-if-extremely tardy statement comes from a stalwart of the right makes a difference.
Why did he do it now? One can only surmise. I rather like to think the women in his family, his wife Cindy and even moreso his firebrand daughter Megan, may have had some role in bringing him to this moment. How ever and why ever it happened, it is not only commendable, but is a sign that we who have stood firm in our convictions of what is right are about to see the opposition -- on our right politically -- collapse into their own season of chaos, out of which order -- a new order for the ages -- may now again resume its advance.