On September 14, 2001, four days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, a memorial service was held in Wheeler Auditorium on the Cal campus for Mark Bingham, one of the heroes of United Flight 93 who led the passengers' attack on the hijackers and caused the plane to crash in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, instead of the White House or the Capitol,
I arrived at Wheeler Hall about a little early, so I decided to use the men's room in the basement.
I was the only one in the room until the door opened and a short man in a dark suite, red shirt and white shirt walked in and stood at the urinal next to me.
I looked at him and then I looked again, hardly believing my eyes. It was John McCain!
After a few awkward moments he stuck out his hand and said, "Hi, I'm John Mc Cain."
He told me he had flown out from Washington for the service in the back of a military cargo plane – remember, all civilian flights were grounded - because he was moved when he heard that Mark had a McCain poster in his office, and he figured the least he could do was say thanks to the man who probably saved his life. (He had been inside the Capitol that day.)
Then we went upstairs. He sat on the stage with the other speakers, and I sat in the audience.
After the speeches the lights were dimmed, and there was a slide show. Everyone was watching the screen except me. I was watching McCain.
While the others on stage turned around and watched, he waited until he thought nobody was looking, then he quietly stepped down the stairs and watched from the audience.
I was puzzled for a while, and then it finally hit me: He couldn't turn his head because of the torture he suffered for five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton.
Now, I don't agree with McCain about a lot of things, but you can't deny that when he talks about torture, he knows what he's talking about.
So here's what he said last week on the Senate floor about the Intelligence Committee's report on torture during the Bush years:
"I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering."
Then, almost shouting, he added, "The use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights."
In response, Dick Cheney, one of the main architects of the torture program, said, "What are we supposed to do? Kiss them on both cheeks and say, 'Tell us everything you know?'" – as if those were the only two choices.
I don't know about you, but on this matter I'd rather trust a war hero than a draft-dodging chicken hawk.
Muse on that next Thursday, when the world celebrates the 2014th birthday of a man who was tortured to death.