WASHINGTON -- After several Republicans running for the White House embraced the use of torture, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to harshly criticize his fellow party members.
The issue surfaced in the Republican primary debate in New Hampshire on Saturday night when moderators asked if candidates would bring back the now-banned technique of waterboarding, which involved strapping someone upside down on a board and simulating killing them by drowning.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) averred that he would bring back the euphemistically described "enhanced interrogation technique" only in select circumstances, saying, "I would use whatever methods we could to keep this country safe."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ducked the question, but suggested the United States needs to get tougher on interrogating prisoners, and should keep more in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Businessman Donald Trump went the furthest.
"I would bring back waterboarding, and I would bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," Trump said to cheers.
None of that sat well with McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and suffered torture firsthand.
"It's been so disappointing to see some presidential candidates engaged in loose talk on the campaign trail about reviving waterboarding and other inhumane interrogation techniques," McCain said.
"It might be easy to dismiss this bluster as cheap campaign rhetoric, but these statements must not go unanswered because they mislead the American people about the realities of interrogation, how to gather intelligence, what it takes to defend our security, and, at the most fundamental level, what we are fighting for as a nation, and what kind of nation we are," he added.
McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, went on to argue that the United States "stained" its national honor by employing torture tactics in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, noting that the techniques failed to produce useful intelligence but did incalculable harm to the nation's reputation.
He added that protecting the country's security and its values are not mutually exclusive, but indeed fundamentally linked.
"When we fight to defend our security, we fight also for an idea that all men are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights -- that's all men and women," McCain said.
"How much safer the world would be if all nations believed the same. How much more dangerous it can become when we forget it ourselves, even momentarily ... Our enemies act without conscience. We must not," McCain said, rebutting the idea advanced on Saturday by Trump that torture was justified because terrorists do worse.
"Sacrificing our national honor and our respect for human dignity will make it harder, not easier, to prevail in this war," McCain continued. "Our nation needs a commander in chief that reminds us that in the worst of times, either chaos or terror of war, when facing cruelty, suffering and loss, that we are always Americans -- different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us."
McCain also pointed out another problem with campaign trail pledges to bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture: they were made illegal in legislation passed last year.
Watch all of McCain's speech above.