Former Sen. Rick Santorum said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years enduring brutal treatment at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors, does not know how effective waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques can be.
The Republican presidential contender insisted the tactics led the United States to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a speech last week that waterboarding al-Qaida's No. 3 leader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, did not provide information that led to bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
McCain said he asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and that the hunt for bin Laden did not begin with fresh information from Mohammed. In fact, the name of bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, came from a detainee held in another country.
"Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information," McCain said.
In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday, Santorum said McCain was wrong.
"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. "And so this idea that we didn't ask that question while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being waterboarded, he (McCain) doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works.
"I mean, you break somebody, and after they're broken, they become cooperative. And that's when we got this information. And one thing led to another, and led to another, and that's how we ended up with bin Laden," said Santorum.
He added: "Maybe McCain has better information than I do, but from what I've seen, it seems pretty clear that but for these cooperative witnesses who were cooperative as a result of enhanced interrogations, we would not have gotten bin Laden."
McCain, the 2008 Republican president nominee, said his information came from Panetta. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, backed McCain's assessment that waterboarding of Mohammed did not produce the tip that led to bin Laden.
Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for McCain, said Tuesday she would not dignify Santorum's comments with a response.
In the House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the Intelligence committee, said the Justice Department should stop investigating CIA interrogators for alleged abuse of detainees under the Bush administration because their work was a "vital part of the chain" that led to the successful raid on bin Laden's hideout.
The Justice Department had no comment.