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Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has a new mission: to convince the American electorate that we are less safe and secure today because Barack Obama won’t use the torture techniques, like waterboarding, that were embraced by his mentor, Dick Cheney. The radicality of Thiessen’s thesis is revealed by noting that under Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan (two Republican heavyweights), Americans were prosecuted for using the techniques he advocates. In a near food fight that erupted during an interview with Philippe Sands and Christine Amanpour on CNN, Thiessen’s romp starts with his misdescription of the Khmer Rouge’s use of waterboarding. He said it involves dunking heads in the water (a practice expressly approved by Cheney), but in fact it involved cloth over the face, doused with water—as shown in this photo of an exhibition from the Museum of the Atrocities of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh—just like the CIA’s approach. He then shows he knows nothing about the Geneva Conventions by claiming that they do not apply to prisoners of war. Protection of POWs is in fact the major concern of the Third Geneva Convention, just as the Fourth Geneva Convention is focused on the protection of civilians during an occupation. All the Geneva Conventions contain a humanitarian baseline of protections available to everyone, including persons that the president labels as “unlawful enemy combatants.”
But perhaps the most interesting clip comes here, when Sands points out that Thiessen said he would submit to waterboarding and then backed down when he discovered what the process entailed. Thiessen goes berserk after this statement, which he implicitly acknowledges as correct:
SANDS: I’m a passionate believer — I’m a passionate believer in
freedom of speech, and I don’t believe people who write books are, in that
way, in any way, complicit. But those who engage in the activity of
waterboarding are engaging in torture. Susan Crawford, President Bush’s own convening authority at Guantanamo, has confirmed that Mohammed al-Kahtani, who wasn’t even waterboarded, was tortured. But let me take it a step further. I mean, I understand that Marc doesn’t think waterboarding is torture. Why doesn’t he submit himself to that technique?
THIESSEN: Because it’s terribly unpleasant, and I’m not a terrorist.
SANDS: I understand that he — I understand — I understand that he
was intending to submit himself to that technique, but, in the end, bottled
out of it…
THIESSEN: Oh, please, Philippe.
SANDS: … because he didn’t have confidence — he didn’t have
confidence that those who would impose it on him would necessary pull the
plug at the right moment.
THIESSEN: Oh, very nice. Very nice.
SANDS: It’s just an appalling technique.
Why does this exchange matter? In interviewing a number of guards at Guantánamo recently, one story I heard repeatedly impressed me with the professionalism and seriousness of the GTMO command. When it was proposed that the guard units be issued a virulent pepper spray, Major (then-Brigadier) General Jay W. Hood, commander of the Joint Task Force, insisted that no guard be authorized to use it without first having it tested on the guard. I examined a number of photographs of this testing process. It was an awful experience, one of the guards told me, but he said he really respected General Hood for it–Hood wanted the guards to understand exactly what they were doing to the prisoners when they used it. This is the spirit of traditional American detentions policy, which doesn’t flinch from the use of force when that is necessary, but always keeps in mind that the same tactics may be applied to American service personnel in the future. This is the military’s “Golden Rule.” It’s driven by a desire to rigorously uphold values America has espoused since the Revolutionary War, and by concern for the welfare of our own men and women in uniform. Thiessen evidently has contempt for both.
Watch the whole exchange here.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Average number of Americans who are injured by chain saws each year:
A farmer in Kenya bit a python who tried to eat him.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”