By Zachary A. Goldfarb | Sen. John McCain today issued some of his strongest criticism of President Bush over an aggressive interrogation technique, clearly suggesting that the president has endorsed torture.
During an assessment of the Bush presidency on “Fox News Sunday,” McCain discussed the administration’s use over “waterboarding,” a technique that has been used to interrogate terrorist detainees.
“Waterboarding to me is torture, okay? And waterboarding was advocated by the administration, and according to a published report, was used,” McCain said. “I obviously don’t want to torture any prisoners.”
McCain also said that he opposed the “spending spree” in the Bush years and wanted to take bigger steps to fight climate change. He gave the president credit for preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.
The issue of waterboarding has been a central one for McCain, a former prisoner of war who sponsored in 2005 the Detainee Treatment Act. That legislation forbade the U.S. military from using waterboarding and other harsh tactics on prisoners, but it exempted the CIA. Bush signed the legislation grudgingly, adding a signing statement that stated the president will decide when and how the bill’s limitations apply during wartime.
Earlier this year, McCain voted against making the CIA subject to the act. Bush later vetoed that bill. Democrats accused McCain of ignoring his principles to appeal to core Republican voters; aides rejected that, saying the vote was consistent with his long-expressed view on how best to prosecute the war.
McCain’s comments, made in a taped interview broadcast the day before the Republican National Convention opens in St. Paul, Minn., came as Hurricane Gustav threatened to wallop the Gulf Coast.
In comments that previously had been released, McCain said his team was studying “various options” about changing the convention’s schedule, “maybe devoting some of the activities to bringing [the] American people’s attention to trying to help [the hurricane’s] victims.”
“We don’t want to appear in any way festive when you have that kind of tragedy possibly revisiting itself on the city of New Orleans and areas around it,” he said.
McCain faced questions about his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was announced on Friday.
McCain called Palin “a partner and a soulmate … a person who will help me reform Washington and change the way they do business.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee said the choice of Palin was evidence that McCain had gone from being a “maverick” to an “erratic” politician.
In his heart, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) said, McCain wanted to pick former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a Republican, or Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut. Both are good friends of McCain, and both favor abortion rights.
“Rush Limbaugh and the right wing vetoed it,” Kerry said. “John McCain was forced to come back and pick a sort of Cheney-esque social conservative who’s going to satisfy the base.”
Kerry said the choice of Palin links McCain even more to the Bush legacy.
“We’ve been warning against the third term of George Bush. With the choice of Governor Palin, it’s now the third term of Bush-Cheney,” he said.
Some political analysts have speculated that, by choosing a woman for his ticket, McCain was trying to attract wayward supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kerry said McCain shouldn’t count on it.
“The people who supported Hillary Clinton are not going to be seduced just because John McCain has picked a woman,” he said. “They’re going to look at what she supports.”
Kerry said Palin fails the “threshold test” of a vice president: “to prove to the American people that the person that you’ve chosen can fill in tomorrow” as president.
Asked if McCain had picked someone who could lead the country if something happened to him, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close friend of his, first sidestepped the question.
“I think what he was looking for is a partner to tell a story about what he wants to do in Washington,” Graham said on ABC.
Pressed, Graham said Palin has far more of the right kind of experience for the job than does Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.
“What has he done? What has he done? What has Senator Obama done in terms of managing a war?” Graham said.
On Fox, McCain cited several reasons that Palin’s experience on foreign affairs surpasses Obama’s. First, he said, she agrees with him on issues such as Iran and the Iraq war. Plus, he said, Palin, as governor, has headed the Alaskan National Guard.
In an ABC interview, McCain’s wife, Cindy, noted that Palin is especially suited to confront foreign issues such as the resurgence of Russia because Alaska is in close proximity to it.
“Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. So it’s not as if she doesn’t understand what’s at stake here,” Cindy McCain said.
Cindy McCain also addressed her just-completed trip to war-torn Georgia, calling it the kind of trip she said she’d like to take more often as a first lady.
“I don’t represent the government or anything, but, from the humanitarian aspect, it’s very important that we continue to get aid in,” she said.
Cindy McCain also addressed Obama’s acceptance speech at last week’s Democratic convention, saying she took umbrage at comments that McCain has lived a lavish life and can’t relate to ordinary Americans.
“I’m offended by Barack Obama saying that about my husband,” she said. “My husband was a Navy boy. His father and mother were in the Navy. I mean, there’s nothing elitist about that.”
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who was passed over by McCain for Palin, said his fellow governor would bring real-life economic experience to the ticket.
“One of the objectives is to be able to relate to … and meet and address the needs of average Americans,” Pawlenty said on “Meet the Press.”
And Lieberman also supported the pick, calling it “a bold choice” on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“If this is a change election, it’s about changing Washington so that it works again,” Lieberman said, “so that this alliance of partisan political power-brokers and special-interests peddlers is broken.”
McCain said ads of his that compare Obama to celebrities and attack his record were not, in fact, negative.
“It’s respectful. But first of all, I also at that time asked Senator Obama to go to town hall meetings with me. We could appear in front of the American people, the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy had pledged to do,” McCain said. “I’ll tell you, that changes the tenor of a campaign, I know because I’ve done them in the past.”