Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Marc Thiessen on Waterboarding

I have recently read Marc Thiessen’s recent book ‘Courting Disaster’ and think every citizen should become familiar with its contents in the same way every one is familiar with the effectiveness of a rifle.

Enhanced interrogation methodology won the war against the terrorists for the past several years because it provided clinical methodology that forced captured terrorist leaders to disgorge their knowledge freely.  We imagine these methods from our knowledge of past horrors conducted by amateurs.  The difference is night and day.

And yes, we have the need and the right to acquire actionable intelligence from an enemy.  That we can do it without killing or maiming him must be considered a huge improvement over the past.  That alone should mean that the methods can in fact be used more freely.  Or do we go back to pulling finger nails off with pliers.  The argument that it should not be done at all fits right in with not conducting war at all because it is wrong.  No one ever bothers to tell the enemy.

Today we face an enemy who is not fighting our soldiers at all.  He is engaged in killing women and children in large numbers with combatants mostly a sideshow.  He is not a legal enemy combatant as a state sponsored soldier is.  As Thiessen makes clear our defense is mostly to make a captured leader talk.

Waterboarding has been catching bad press.  Here the argument that it is somewhat different than that given to soldiers in training is specious.  The purpose of the training is to make the soldier understand his personal limits and not to break him.  The purpose with a detainee is to break him as fast as possible and waterboarding has proven irresistible.  Its power is that the subject, however prepared is unable to convince his body to not respond with panic and abject overwhelming fear.

Yet it does not damage or kill.  The subject is soon unable to further resist however tough they are.

As I have stated, while torture relies on pain and progressive physical damage to overcome subject resistance, these methods rely on overcoming the subject’s ability to manage fear without any real damage at all.  In that state the subject ultimately submits to his captors and becomes fully cooperative.

It is torture, but a form unlike any other previously practiced ineffectually.  This method makes the subject lose control over his ability to resist.  It also provides timely actionable intelligence.  The maximum that a subject has held out is fifteen days.

I will go a little further.  The method of weatherboarding needs to be applied immediately on capture to any non cooperative enemy combatant by trained specialists.  This may seem to be harsh, but it is not.  Ninety nine percent cannot stand it for more than a couple of minutes and seconds would be more like it.  They are instantly rendered cooperative and begin babbling all they have.  Another reason for this to be in the field is that soldiers will improvise if deemed necessary as they always have and that is a bad choice.

All other methods are potentially way more damaging and they tie up resources and sooner or later cost lives.  Intelligence in actual combat is needed as soon as possible, not days later.  In fact, once you have someone for a few hours, his usefulness is very low unless he is special in some way. 

This book is about strategic information which can be largely gathered from actual leaders and does he not consider field intelligence. 

Marc Thiessen and the Dishonest Waterboarding Debate

Posted by MICHAEL SCHERER Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 9:30 am

"We waterboarded in the CIA--the CIA waterboarded three terrorists. Just three. Nobody was waterboarded at Guantanamo. You know who else the U.S. has waterboarded? Tens of thousands of American service members during their SERE training."
--Marc Thiessen, former White House speechwriter on CNN, January 20, 2010
In late January, the former Bush Administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen, who has since become a Washington Post columnist, appeared on Christiane Amanpour's CNN show to discuss harsh waterboarding. He made a splash.
Mid-interview, Thiessen pulled out a transcript of a previous Amanpour report in which the CNN host had compared the U.S. practice of waterboarding to a water torture practice used by the genocidal regime of Pol Pot. "There have been so many misstatements made about the enhanced interrogation techniques, comparing them to the Spanish Inquisition and the Khmer Rouge, and I have to tell you Christiane you are one of the people who have spread these mistruths." Amanpour's journalistic failing, according to Thiessen, was a report in which Amanpour had visited a former Khmer Rouge prison, looked at a painting in which a prisoner was submerged in a "box of water," and then asked someone if they knew that this technique had been used on U.S. terror suspects. In other words, Amanpour had gotten the details of the CIA version of waterboarding wrong. CIA interrogators never used a box of water when they waterboarded.
Thiessen was right, and he can be applauded for pointing out the distinction. But then what are we to make of the fact that just a few minutes later, on the very same CNN show, Thiessen clearly committed the same error? As he has before and since, Thiessen claimed that the waterboarding of U.S. terror suspects was not so bad because the technique has been used on "tens of thousands" of U.S. servicemen in training. Now, Thiessen knows the CIA program inside and out. He has written a book on it. And it seems inconceivable to me that he did not know he is clearly misrepresenting the waterboarding techniques that the CIA used.
The Bush-era Justice Department, the same agency that approved the techniques, admitted as much, as my former colleague Mark Benjamin notes in a story today for Salon describing in detail the CIA waterboarding process.
The CIA's waterboarding was "different" from training for elite soldiers, according to the Justice Department document released last month. "The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed," the document notes. In soldier training, "The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier's face) in a controlled manner," DOJ wrote. "By contrast, the agency interrogator ... continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose."
There were other differences. The SERE training program used water. The CIA program used saline solution, because the duration and volume of water was so intense that CIA doctors feared the detainees would die of hyponatremia. Benjamin continues:
While Bush-Cheney officials defended the legality and safety of waterboarding by noting the practice has been used to train U.S. service members to resist torture, the documents show that the agency's methods went far beyond anything ever done to a soldier during training. U.S. soldiers, for example, were generally waterboarded with a cloth over their face one time, never more than twice, for about 20 seconds, the CIA admits in its own documents.
As I have said before, I think it is a good thing that Marc Thiessen wants to keep the debate over harsh interrogation going. These are hard issues, and I do not think they have been fully digested by the American people. For instance, I think most people have still not fully understood that some of the worst pain inflicted on prisoners came not from the waterboarding, but from the CIA policy of forced sleep deprivation by stress position for as long as seven consecutive days during periods of extended caloric limitation. But I remain disappointed with the quality of Thiessen's arguments, which seem to be designed more for cable news soundbites than for serious discussion. I wish he held himself to a higher standard.
The full CNN clip follows below.

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