Thiessen Watch: Off with their heads…Marc Thiessen’s torture manifesto, in review

By Renée Schomp, Law and Security

When it comes to someone as sensationally capable of creating alternate realities as torture apologist Marc Thiessen, it’s at times difficult to avoid descending into inarticulate apoplexy. But Jane Mayer is the best when it comes to calmly laying bare even the most absurd concoctions—which she demonstrates beautifully in her recent New Yorker review of Thiessen’s book, Courting Disaster.

As the subtitle of her review so aptly puts it, his book is “A curious history of the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program.”

Thiessen indeed seems to operate within a strange Wonderland—one in which, as Mayer notes, he has no qualms with making assertions such as, “’The well-documented fact is there was no torture at Guantanamo.’” It’s incredible how capable this former Bush speechwriter is at ignoring the Jabberwocky in the room! As Mayer points out,

“One person who would disagree with this remark is Susan Crawford, the
conservative Republican jurist whom Bush appointed to serve as the top
‘convening authority’ on military commissions at Guantanamo. Last year,
she told Bob Woodward, of the Washington Post, that there was at least one
Guantanamo detainee whose prosecution she couldn’t allow because his abuse ‘met
the legal definition of torture.’”

Crawford isn’t the only one disturbed by the all-too-surreal torture manifested by the C.I.A. interrogation program that Thiessen so lauds. As Mayer discusses, C.I.A. director Michael Hayden in 2009 briefed intelligence experts at the request of President Obama. One of these experts, David Boren, retired Democratic senator, along with former senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and former C.I.A. general counsel Jeffrey Smith, “were left unswayed.”

In fact, as Mayer further points out, “Boren has said that, after the briefing, he ‘wanted to take a bath.’” She continues, “In an email to me, he wrote, ‘I left the briefing by General Hayden completely unconvinced that the use of torture is an effective means of interrogation…Those who are being tortured will say anything.’”

Mayer and Boren are not alone – experienced interrogators and retired military leaders have repeatedly explained that torture backfires. Coerced confessions are highly unreliable and inadmissible in court. Security experts also report that torture hurts our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan, because they must build support with the local communities in order to find possible terrorists—and they cannot cultivate that trust when America tortures those they capture.

Despite the facts, however, Thiessen, Dick and Liz Cheney, and others will still attempt to weave a false narrative of success around the C.I.A.’s use of torture until they’re blue in the face.

As of late, when Thiessen finds himself caught in this sticky web of his own making, he simply corrects himself in his new Washington Post column—such as when he finally acknowledged, as Mayer points out in her review, that it was the Bush administration (not the Obama administration) that first discontinued the use of certain abusive techniques such as controlled drowning.

Does Thiessen believe the misconstrued evidence used in his book can disappear as easily as the Cheshire cat? Fine, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps one day soon he’ll use his column to retract the subtitle of Courting Disaster: “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack.”

“You should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.

“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least—at least I mean what I say—that’s the same
thing, you know.”

Torture apologists will continue to use words of hollow meaning, leading us down a dark rabbit hole of coercive interrogations, until those who dug this hole in the first place are held accountable for their actions. As Mayer concludes,

“’Courting Disaster’ suggests that Obama’s avowed determination ‘to look
forward, not back’ has laid the recent past open to partisan
reinterpretation. By holding no one accountable for past abuse, and by
convening no commission on what did and didn’t protect the country, President
Obama has left the telling of this dark chapter in American history to those who
most want to whitewash it.”

Alice would say—when it comes to Marc Thiessen and those who continue to advocate policies even the Bush administration itself discontinued—it just gets curiouser and curiouser.

Check out Marc Thiessen’s recent interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.


Published on March 24, 2010


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