Marc Thiessen Knows Diddly-Squat About Torture

Marc Thiessen is a former Bush speechwriter and a denizen of The Corner who now spends most of his time promoting his employers’ use of torture (which he calls “enhanced interrogation techniques”). He participated in yesterday’s Torture Comedy Hour at Fox, and he has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post that is essentially a rehash of arguments from a previous op-ed for why torture prevented another 9/11:

Dan Froomkin cut Thiessen’s arguments to shreds back in January, and he does so again today:

… Marc A. Thiessen returns to the Washington Post op-ed page this morning with more circular arguments, citing unsupported justifications written by torturers and their enablers as irrefutable proof of the value of what they did.

Thiessen writes that one of the memos released last week notes that “the CIA believes ‘the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.’…In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques.”

But quoting the CIA’s belief doesn’t really settle anything. And much of what Thiessen writes today is basically a repeat of his January 22 Post op-ed (itself a repeat of Bush’s September 2006 speech) which I debunked here.

For instance, Thiessen writes: “Specifically, interrogation with enhanced techniques ‘led to the discovery of a KSM plot, the “Second Wave,” “to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into” a building in Los Angeles.’…The memo explains that ‘information obtained from KSM also led to the capture of Riduan bin Isomuddin, better known as Hambali, and the discovery of the Guraba Cell, a 17-member Jemmah Islamiyah cell tasked with executing the “Second Wave.”‘ In other words, without enhanced interrogations, there could be a hole in the ground in Los Angeles to match the one in New York.”

But remember, this is the same plot that some intelligence officials told The Post in 2006 may have never been more than just talk.

So, yes, by 2005, senior Justice Department and CIA officials were in full CYA mode — trying to defend what they had done and tell the White House what it wanted to hear — and they most assuredly generated a lot of paperwork to support their views. But that doesn’t make what they said true.

Here is a Los Angeles Times article from October 8, 2005, in which Josh Meyer and Warren Vieth reported that, according to counterterrorism officials who were familiar with what Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had told his interrogators (because they had been assigned to brief the Los Angeles police force about it), the information he provided was dubious at best:

When the plot was disclosed last year [in 2004], authorities said publicly that they had viewed the claims by captured Al Qaeda chieftain Khalid Shaikh Mohammed with skepticism. They said that, at best, the alleged plot was something that had been discussed but never put into action.

By the time anybody knew about it, the threat — if there had been one — had passed, federal counter-terrorism officials said Friday.

Andrew Sullivan notes the contradiction in Thiessen’s claim that what he calls “enhanced interrogation” was both effective and not torture:

Thiessen’s core defense – that the techniques worked – is at severe odds with his contention that it was not torture[.]
What defines torture is not this or that specific technique. We could spend hours poring through the countless ways in which human beings have devised to torture defenseless captives over the centuries. What defines torture is applying sufficiently severe mental or physical pain or suffering to force a victim to say anything to make it stop. In terms of time, you can go from the 15 seconds of waterboarding or electrocution to the days, weeks and months of Chinese water-torture, or days and weeks of sleep deprivation. The point is to break people. Or as an Abu Ghraib interrogator conveyed the message from the commander-in-chief in an August 2003 e-mail:

“The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.”

This is what Thiessen is bragging about here.

It is to subject captives to such levels of physical or mental pain or suffering that they “have reached the limit of their ability to withhold [information] in the face of psychological and physical hardship.” This is, in fact, as close to a definition of torture as you are likely to find. Zubaydah understood that torture is the imposition of sufficient physical or psychological pain or suffering to cause even religious fanatics, who believe their very souls are at stake, to have no choice but to submit. And so Western torture returns to its early modern roots: as a tool to prove that the power of government is greater even than the power of religious fanaticism, if you are prepared to treat the human body and soul as objects for total coercion and control. Begin with the inquisition and end with it; only now it is designed against Islamists, not heretical Christians.

Memo to Thiessen: you cannot both argue that the pain and suffering was severe enough to force captives to have no choice but to confess and also argue that it wasn’t torture. …

7 Responses to “Marc Thiessen Knows Diddly-Squat About Torture”

  1. Booogie-Mann says:

    Rove was on the news this morning asking that Obama release ALL the Memo’s now, not just the ones claimed to favor Obama’s position. In these documents supposedly are information on how an attack by Jumbo Jet in LA was thwarted. I’d like to see this, if we’re going to have a debate on Bush’s policy, let’s see what the results of the interrogations were.

    Andrew Sullivan makes a comment about semantics, if the pain of torture produced information well the reverse of his argument is that no torture would have produced no information … thus we’d have a few thousand more people dead in LA and another building hitting the ground. Indirectly Sullivan admits the interrogations worked.

    Kathy, again, I’d like to know which of these techniques you consider torture, and which are not. What, if anything, can interrogator’s do to get information?? Allegedly KSM was waterboarded 180+ times … yet he survived and walked away. Seems if the interrogation was so harsh, he’d be dead or unable to move.

    Lastly, what about Democrat approval of these techniques?? I wonder if Congressional briefings and approval will be part of any hearing.

  2. tas says:

    BM, Rumproast has requested your presence. No, seriously. You should go there instead of visiting us.

    The Wannabe Management

  3. Kathy says:


    Congressional Democratic enabling of the Bush torture regime has my full measure of condemnation.

    I answered your other questions already. The things you say reveal a complete ignorance of the subject, and I don’t have the time or inclination to educate you.

  4. Booogie-Mann says:

    tas: I’m not going anywhere, sorry to disrupt your singular mindset here but you most of all exemplify the political hack not interested in facts or thinking outside the box. All these 1-liners of yours demonstrate inept political dialog, lack of knowledge.

    Kathy, glad you are consistent by condemning any Democrat approval. Educating me?? Well maybe so, but not in the way you think. What I’ve learned here is the complete and utter hypocrisy on the left mixed with pure mean spirited dialog and absolutely no willingness to engage the other side or attempt change someone’s mind. There are closed minded people blindly cheering on both sides of the aisle, you guys represent the crowd on the left. Either you agree and are welcomed in as an Obamaton or ignored/ridiculed, certainly not engaged because to engage in critical thinking would be to open one’s mind to perhaps a different point of view.

    Educate me on this Kathy: What measures or techniques (if any) would you support to gather information from Terrorists? If you answered this previously I could not find it.

  5. tas says:

    I’ve managed to find another artists conception of Bowel Movement. The guy gets around.

  6. Kathy says:

    That’s because my answer was in the other post I wrote on this subject, at this blog, entitled “No Legal Immunity for Clearly Illegal Acts,” in the Comments section of which you asked me exactly the same question and I answered it.

  7. Booogie-Mann says:

    tas: Interesting self portrait. I thought “Progressives” didn’t make fun of gays, minorities, or people with disabilities??

    Kathy: Well we’ll have to disagree on the definition of Torture. I just read your response but it did not fully answer the question. Which interrogation technique (if any) would you use?

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