Vietnam POWs and Torture

One reason Sen. John McCain has so much credibility when he says waterboarding is torture is that he was in fact tortured as a POW in Vietnam. Still, the waterboarding story is a little more complicated than that. As my former WH colleague, Marc Thiessen, notes, at least some of Senator McCain’s fellow POWs have no problem with waterboarding captured al Qaeda terrorists. Here’s how Col. Bud Day, a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his courage as a POW, puts it:

“I am a supporter of waterboarding. It is not torture. Torture is really hurting someone. Waterboarding is just scaring someone, with no long-term injurious effects. It is a scare tactic that works.”

I [Marc Thiessen] asked Day in an e-mail what he would say to the CIA officer who waterboarded Khalid Sheik Mohammed, if he had the chance to speak with him.  Day replied immediately: “YOU DID THE RIGHT THING.” 

Like Day, Col. Leo Thorsness was awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism during the Vietnam War.  He experienced excruciating torture during his captivity — his back broken, his body wrenched apart.  He says what the CIA did to al-Qaeda terrorists in its custody was not torture:

“To me, waterboarding is intensive interrogation. It is not torture. Torture involves extreme, brutal pain — breaking bones, passing out from pain, beatings so severe that blood spatters the walls . . . when you pop shoulders out of joints.. . . In my mind, there’s a difference, and in most POWs’ minds there’s a difference.. . . I would not hesitate a second to use ‘enhanced interrogation,’ including waterboarding, if it would save the lives of innocent people.”

Read the whole thing. Admiral Jeremiah Denton is another former Vietnam POW who parts company with Senator McCain on this one.