WASHINGTON - Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), a 2012 presidential contender, said Tuesday that Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), who spent 51/2 years enduring brutal treatment by his North Vietnamese captors, doesn't know how effective waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques can be. Santorum insisted the tactics led the United States to Osama bin Laden.

McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week that waterboarding al-Qaeda's Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did not provide information that led to bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.

McCain said that he had asked CIA Director Leon E. Panetta for the facts, and that the hunt for bin Laden had not begun 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.

Santorum, in an interview Tuesday with radio host Hugh Hewitt, 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," Santorum said.

Brooke Buchanan, a spokeswoman for McCain, said she would not dignify Santorum's comments with a response.