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Fox Business guest says torture ‘worked’ on John McCain: ‘That’s why they call him Songbird John’

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney has a history of making wild, offensive comments.

Fox Business guest says torture 'worked' on John McCain (CREDIT: Fox Business, screengrab)
Fox Business guest says torture 'worked' on John McCain (CREDIT: Fox Business, screengrab)

Fox Business guest Thomas McInerney, a former Fox News military analyst  who appeared on the network periodically for many years, claimed Thursday that so-called “enhanced interrogation” methods were effective and said that torture had “worked” on Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), a former Navy pilot and prisoner of war.

McInerney was pushing back against critics of acting CIA Director Gina Haspel, a veteran of the intelligence community and President Trump’s pick to lead the agency. Haspel has been opposed by Democrats and some Republicans who believe her time overseeing a CIA black site prison in Thailand after 9/11, where detainees were subjected to brutal torture methods, as well as her role in a CIA effort to destroy nearly 100 videotaped recordings of those interrogation sessions, disqualifies her from the role.

McCain specifically has come out strong against Haspel’s nomination, issuing a statement Wednesday night, following Haspel’s earlier Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, in which he urged his colleagues to do the same.

“I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense,” McCain wrote. “However, Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying. I believe the Senate should exercise its duty of advice and consent and reject this nomination.”

On Thursday morning, speaking with Fox Business host Charles Payne, McInerney fired back.

“The fact is, is John McCain — [torture] worked on John — that’s why they call him ‘Songbird John,'” he said, in a segment on Varney & Company, first unearthed by Media Matters. “The fact is those methods can work, and they are effective, as former Vice President Cheney said. And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to.”

Payne later apologized for McInerney’s comments. “This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain,” he tweeted. “…I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged. As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.”

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Myriad studies and analyses over the years have proven that torture does not, in fact, work. Haspel herself is on record during Wednesday’s hearing saying that torture is ineffective as an interrogation technique.

McCain’s experience as a prisoner of war also rebuts McInerney’s horrific claim: as the Daily Beast notes, there’s no evidence that McCain, who was held as a prisoner of war for five and a half years during the Vietnam War, ever gave up any information to enemy combatants, despite being tortured and beaten nearly the entire time.

Speaking with U.S. News in 2008, McCain explained how in one particularly brutal torture session, he held out for four days before, on the brink of suicide, he was finally — violently — coerced into writing a false confession, stating that he was “sorry for the crimes that [he] had committed against North Vietnamese people and that [he] was grateful for the treatment that [he] had received from them.”

“They took me up into one of the interrogation rooms, and for the next 12 hours we wrote and rewrote,” he said. “The North Vietnamese interrogator, who was pretty stupid, wrote the final confession, and I signed it. It was in their language, and spoke about black crimes, and other generalities. It was unacceptable to them. But I felt just terrible about it. I kept saying to myself, ‘Oh, God, I really didn’t have any choice.'”

He added, “I had learned what we all learned over there: Every man has his breaking point. I had reached mine.”

McInerney, a retired Air Force lieutenant general, has a history of making egregious, unsubstantiated claims. In August of last year, speaking with right-wing Fox News host Sean Hannity, McInerney was supportive of an offensive nuclear strike on North Korea because “mostly North Koreans” would die in the blast.

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“The nuclear fallout… is dramatic,” Hannity said during a segment on his radio show on August 10. “I mean, potentially — am I right or overstating the fact that millions could potentially die here?”

“Yeah,” McInerney said, “but they’ll be mostly North Koreans.”

He added that the fallout would be contained “with airbursts” and controlling “the size of the weapons” used in the strike. “Look how many weapons we dropped on Japan, then we were in there weeks later,” he said.

McInerney also previously spoke out in support of Army Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, a birther who refused to deploy to Afghanistan in 2010 because he claimed President Obama was not born in the United States and had no legal right to the presidency.

McInerney’s comments are in line with those made by President Trump, who has claimed on multiple occasions that “torture works” and referred to waterboarding as a “minor form” of torture. Trump has also threatened to revive the practice, as well as techniques that are “a hell of a lot worse.”

More recently, Trump used this justification to endorse Haspel for CIA director.

“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists,” he tweeted Monday. “Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!”

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece referred to Thomas McInerney as a Fox News military analyst. McInerney is actually a former Fox News military analyst, but is no longer listed on the Fox News Insider page. On Thursday, he was functioning only as a guest on Fox Business.