McCain Denies Giving O.K. to a CIA Torture Tactic

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Philippe Lopez / AFP / Getty

Senator John McCain

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The U.S. State Department has long characterized extended sleep deprivation by foreign countries as a form of torture, though Bradbury in his memo dismissed this fact as not providing "controlling evidence" on the issue of contemporary standards. The U.S. Army Field Manual, which regulates military interrogations, also prohibits extended sleep deprivation, but Bradbury dismissed this standard as failing to provide "dispositive evidence" of the government behavior.

During the legislative debates in 2005 and 2006, McCain argued against applying the Army Field Manual rules to the CIA, saying intelligence agencies should not be constrained by military rules. Upon taking office, President Obama announced that the CIA would be limited to the field manual's techniques. Obama also began a process to review the possibility of adding additional methods, beyond the field manual, for the interrogation of high-value detainees.

Under the Bush Administration's 2007 CIA interrogation guidance, certain detainees could be subjected to six enhanced interrogation techniques: dietary manipulation, extended sleep deprivation, facial hold, attention grasp, abdominal slap and facial slap. Sleep deprivation was achieved by using "physical restraints to prevent the detainee from falling asleep"; detainees were forced to wear an adult diaper during the process.

In practice, detainees were shackled in a standing position, with their hands positioned below their chins and above their hearts, preventing sleep. If the detainee collapsed, or developed swelling in the legs, the detainee would be reshackled in a sitting position that would similarly prevent sleep. The treatment could last up to 96 hours, or longer with specific authorization from the Justice Department. Two other recently declassified memos show that one unnamed detainee received two one-day extensions to a course of sleep deprivation in November 2007, for a total of six days of consecutive sleep deprivation.

This is not the first time that a member of Congress has disputed the CIA's account of a briefing. In May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disputed the CIA claims that she had been briefed in 2002 about the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods including waterboarding. She has maintained that she did not learn about the use of the technique until the following year.

Elisa Massimino, a lobbyist for Human Rights First, who worked with McCain in 2006 on the Military Commissions Act, says she remembers the Senator often discussing sleep deprivation as a form of illegal abuse. "I would be very surprised if at that point in time Senator McCain and others would not have raised objections to prolonged sleep deprivation," said Massimino. "He talked about Orson Swindle."

In late 2007, after a presidential campaign event in Iowa, McCain said that he supported the prosecutions of any government employee who violated laws governing detainee treatment after October 2006, when the Military Commissions Act was passed. "After we passed the Detainee Treatment Act, the Military Commissions Act, then obviously anybody who violated any law of the United States would have to be held responsible," McCain told reporters.

An aide to McCain said on Aug. 28 that the Senator, who attended memorial services for Ted Kennedy over the weekend, had not yet read the newly released documents, and had not formed an opinion about whether or not laws had been violated.

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