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Yes, I know, John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam, incarcerated for years, and brutally tortured. In that, however, he is no more, nor less, a hero than the hundreds of others who suffered a similar fate. By saying this, I do not mean to suggest that what McCain and the other POWs endured was insignificant. On the contrary, in our research for "Aid and Comfort": Jane Fonda in North Vietnam, Erika Holzer and I read dozens of memoirs by American and allied prisoners of war who were held in South and North Vietnam, and the accounts profoundly affected us emotionally. No human being, fighting in a just cause, should be subjected to that kind of inhuman treatment.

That said, having suffered the agonies of communist captivity does not give anyone a license to act in a manner inimical to the interests of a free country or its citizens.

But that’s what John McCain has been doing for years.

For example, he crawled into bed with the Keating Four, making them what posterity will always know as the ignominious "Keating Five"—costing countless bank depositors incalculable amounts of money, and some of them their life savings.

When Jane Fonda defended the conduct of John Walker and condemned America’s routing of the Taliban and our liberation of Afghanistan, McCain sanitized her treason in North Vietnam by characterizing her as merely a "confused young actress"—thereby insulting the many who suffered from her conduct, and further legitimizing her outrageous conduct on behalf of the communists.

With liberal colleague Senator Russ Feingold, McCain sponsored and fought for a federal statute that has throttled free political speech in American election campaigns.

By recently organizing the cabal euphemistically known as the "Gang of Fourteen" senators, he has made himself judicial kingmaker and indispensable to the White House in its nomination of Supreme Court justices and other federal judges—thereby, in a single coup, weakening the President’s appointment power and enabling the senate to filibuster in violation of its constitutional duty to give nominees up or down votes.

Despite McCain’s self-absorbed conduct, I tempered my criticism of him out of respect for his ordeal in Hanoi, and because of my affection and admiration for a mutual friend who shared McCain’s torment in that hellhole. But now with the Senator’s latest stunt, I can no longer remain silent.

McCain has been a stalwart supporter, albeit at times a perceptive critic, of the War on Terror in general and the Iraq campaign in particular. But now he has crossed the line, doubtless in the name of political correctness and/or his presidential aspirations.

This time, he has engineered a near-unanimous senate vote to give "enemy combatants" (i.e., terrorist guerillas) the protection that the Geneva Convention reserves for legitimate prisoners of war, and to prohibit the obtaining of intelligence by "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

Setting aside, as The Wall Street Journal has just observed, that McCain’s do-gooder amendment would reveal a flagging commitment to fight the War on Terrorism and assure terrorists that no harm would come to them when captured—that the amendment would be "unilateral disarmament" in the War on Terrorism—there is simply no principled reason for the Untied States not to reserve the ability to do whatever necessary to obtain intelligence necessary to protect our troops and our nation.

The reasons offered by McCain and his politically correct colleagues and supporters to abjure "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" do not wash.

By torturing, we do not "become like them" (any more than by imposing capital punishment)—because the "cause" for which terrorist guerillas maim and kill is evil. Flat out unequivocally evil! We, however, if we use coercive interrogation methods, do so in order to defend ourselves in the noble cause of freedom, democracy, individual rights, and the dignity of mankind. It matters—a lot—who is doing what to whom, and why.

It is not true that torture does not produce useful results. It does. There has been no attack on the United States in four years. Many anti-terrorism experts attribute this to our having acquired essential intelligence—the same intelligence that has allowed us to roll up much of the al-Qaeda network. In North Vietnam, the communists tortured not for military information, which they had anyhow, but to obtain highly-valued propaganda. They succeeded because POWs, McCain among them, understandably (and forgivably) "broke" after exhibiting superhuman endurance beyond what anyone can be expected to survive.

There is no moral reason for this country not to torture. If in self defense, we can lie, cheat, deceive, firebomb cities, shoot spies, defoliate jungles, assassinate enemies, annihilate armies, steal secrets, and even use atomic weapons—all of which are perfectly appropriate responses in a just war when a democracy has been attacked— it stands to reason that it is not only optional, but a moral imperative, to employ "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" in the name of defending ourselves and perhaps saving our civilization.

For John McCain, in logic, there are only two choices. Either he knows all of this, in which case he is hypocritically playing to the PC crowd and otherwise trying to further his presidential ambitions, or he does not, which makes him a fool who learned nothing in Vietnam, or since.

I have a single question for John McCain: If in, say, 1965, the United States had announced that it would accord "enemy combatants" (i.e. terrorist guerillas) Geneva Convention status, and not use against them "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," would McCain’s communist captors not have tortured him, his cellmates, and the hundreds of other prisoners they held in captivity?

If his answer is, as it must be, that pious, politically correct sentiments from the United States Congress would have had no effect on the subhumans that tortured him to obtain propaganda, then by reserving our right to torture enemy combatants to obtain intelligence, we have nothing to lose—and perhaps our very survival to gain.