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McCain Backs Torture as Recruiting Tool for Al Qaida; Policy Led to the Deaths of U.S. Soldiers in Iraq

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Since writing an op-ed ("I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq", Nov '08) for the Washington Post over nine months ago stating that the U.S. policy of torture and abuse was Al Qaida's number one recruiting tool and ultimately caused the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers in Iraq, several critics have questioned the validity of my argument. I based my opinion on my personal experience in conducting and supervising over 1,300 interrogations and on statistics compiled by my Task Force and briefed to us by a DoD expert on foreign fighters in Iraq. I was not the first to make this argument about torture as a recruiting tool, but I was the first to say that the policy of torture and abuse was directly linked to U.S. deaths in Iraq. It's a hard pill to swallow, but true.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney called torture as a recruiting tool for Al Qaida a 'mantra' and stated that it was untrue. Wayne Simmons, a former CIA agent, called it 'preposterous' when I made this argument over the past weekend on Fox and Friends. Ann Coulter questioned it. Bill O'Reilly. Laura Ingraham. Brit Hume. And a host of others. Of course, none of the above mentioned individuals have interrogated an Al Qaida member, and with the exception of Wayne Simmons, worked as an intelligence officer or served in the military. So let's turn to individuals who have supported this argument.

This weekend on Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer, Senator John McCain had the following to say:

I think that these interrogations once publicized helped al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative in a prison camp in Iraq who told-- who told me that.

He goes on to say:

I was in -- Senator Lindsey Graham and I were in -- in Camp Bucca, the twenty-thousand-prisoner camp. We met with a former high-ranking member of al Qaeda. I said, "How did you succeed so well in Iraq after the initial invasions?" He said two things. One, the chaos that existed after the initial invasion, there was no order of any kind. Two, he said, Abu Ghraib pictures allowed me and helped me to recruit thousands of young men to our cause. Now that's al Qaeda.

Former General Counsel to the Navy Alberto Mora has stated this same conclusion in testimony to Congress more than a year ago. He said:

There are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq -- as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat -- are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

General Ray Odierno:

The graphic revelations of detainee abuse motivated some terrorists including foreign fighters from Syria, Yemen and Saudi Arabia to join the jihad.

General David Petraeus:

An influx of foreign fighters from outside Afghanistan and new recruits from within Afghan could materialize, as the new photos serve as potent recruiting material to attract new members to join the insurgency.

From the SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY:

Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies.

In addition, the following individuals have reached this same conclusion: Admiral Mike Mullen, (Ret) Admiral Dennis Blair (Director of National Intelligence), and Richard Clarke (former Chief of Counterterrorism).

Those who call this argument 'preposterous' or dismiss it as a political 'mantra' are living in denial. I believe, as a member of the Armed Forces, that I had an obligation to my fellow brothers and sisters in arms to not put their lives in jeopardy, yet senior civilian leaders in the former administration willing sacrificed American principles and caused the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. In addition, many senior military officers encouraged, authorized, and allowed torture and abuse to be used against prisoners and ultimately cost us the lives of our comrades.

I have been contacted by World War II veterans who were outraged that the former administration so easily dismissed the American principles that millions of veterans gave their lives to defend. They pointed out what I have said all along: we cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him.

This is one reason why I support the call for an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate the past policy of torture and abuse. We owe it to the fallen.