McCain, a former Vietnam prisoner of war who suffered mistreatment, talked about the new proposal at a Columbia campaign stop Saturday.
McCain said he wanted to create an Army Advisory Corps of 20,000 soldiers to act as military advisers and a new Office of Strategic Services to fight terrorists. He said he wanted them to pursue "a crash program in civilian and military schools" to prepare more experienced speakers in strategically important languages such as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi and others, and to "create a new specialty in strategic interrogation - a new, a new group of strategic interrogators so that we never have to feel motivated to torture anyone ever again."
When asked if he knew whether U.S. forces had engaged in torture in the past, the Arizona senator said he didn't.
"I do not know whether they've been involved in torture because I don't have that kind of information," McCain said. "I do know that when tapes are destroyed of interrogations, it contributes enormously to the cynicism, the skepticism, and also is further damaging to the image of the United States of America in the world."
The CIA recently acknowledged that in 2005 it destroyed videotapes made three years earlier of the CIA's interrogations of two terror suspects. The tapes were made to document how CIA officers used new, harsh questioning techniques approved by the White House to force recalcitrant prisoners to talk.
Intelligence officials have said the methods that were shown on the videotapes included waterboarding, an interrogation tactic that causes the sensation of drowning and is banned by the Pentagon.
McCain also said he met with a "high ranking member of al Qaeda in Iraq" who told him that post-invasion lawlessness and images of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib helped recruit insurgents. The latter was "a great recruitment tool," McCain said. "He said it and I believe it."
He also said he'd go after terrorists with a new military force. "I'll set up a new agency patterned after the old Office of Strategic Services that will be a small, nimble, can-do organization that will fight" terrorist anywhere in the world and on the Internet, McCain said.
Later, at Newberry College's commencement ceremony about an hour away, McCain talked about the response to torture being a measure of character.
"These tools are not American tools and the easy way is not the American way," McCain told the graduating class.
McCain said the people he spent time with as a POW in Vietnam were tortured and encouraged to make statements to stop their suffering, but didn't even when promised no one would find out. McCain said they would know what they'd said.
"That, my friends, is character," McCain told the graduating class.
McCain wrapped up his two-day spin through South Carolina with a town hall meeting at a Greer family restaurant.
John Grabiel, a Greer minister, pressed McCain about whether he considered Jesus Christ his personal savior, but McCain wouldn't directly respond.
"I have deep religious beliefs and values," McCain said. "I had experiences in my life where I had to rely on God to get me through not another day or another hour, but another minute."
He added that he attends North Phoenix Baptist Church and that his faith was between him and God.
Grabiel said afterward that McCain didn't answer his question.