Rick Santorum says John McCain ‘doesn’t understand’ harsh interrogation techniques

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

Former Pennsylvania Sen.Rick Santorum said Tuesday that John McCain, who was tortured for more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, "doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works."

The GOP presidential hopeful's comments came during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. Santorum said the Arizona senator is wrong in arguing against waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques approved during the Bush administration but since discontinued by President Obama.

In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's death, McCain has publicly pushed back against claims that enhanced interrogation, which he has decried as torture, did not help the U.S. find the 9/11 mastermind. But Santorum insisted Tuesday McCain doesn't understand how the harsh interrogation techniques work and how effective they can be.

"Everything I've read shows that we would not have gotten this information as to who this man was if it had not been gotten information from people who were subject to enhanced interrogation," Santorum said, referring to the courier that U.S.intelligence officials had traced to bin Laden. "And so this idea that we didn't ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, he doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they're broken, they become cooperative."

Asked about Santorum's comments, McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan replied, "Who?"

In a statement provided to The Ticket via his spokeswoman, Santorum insisted he wasn't trying to demean McCain's service.

"I disagree with Sen. McCain's view that the enhanced interrogation techniques used on a select few high-value terrorist detainees were unsuccessful nor do I believe they amounted to torture," Santorum said. " For anyone to infer my disagreement with Sen. McCain's policy position lessens my respect for his service to our country and all he had to endure is outrageous and unfortunate."

This is only the latest dust-up between Santorum and McCain, who frequently butted heads when Santorum was in the Senate. Satnroum actively campaigned against McCain during the 2008 GOP presidential primary, citing his stances on campaign finance reform and immigration.

In backing Mitt Romney in the race, Santorum accused McCain of not having the right "temperament" to be president—a charge that angered the McCain campaign and added fuel to stories that the Arizona senator was prone to angry outbursts at his colleagues.

Santorum acknowledged Tuesday in his interview with Hewitt that McCain "might have better information than I do" on what role enhanced interrogation played in the bin Laden operation. But he insisted it seems "pretty clear" enhanced interrogation helped the U.S. find the long-elusive al Qaeda leader.

(Photo of McCain and Santorum in 2006: Dennis Cook/AP)