In the past year, former Bush administration speechwriter Marc Thiessen has made a name for himself as the most visible and forceful defender of the Bush administration’s adoption of torture as a tool of interrogation of alleged Al Qaeda detainees. The main part of his strategy for defending torture has been to deny that the methods used don’t actually amount to torture, and to insist on the term “enhanced interrogation” for techniques such as waterboarding that were specifically developed by torturers as a method of torture.
Appearing on Christiane Ahmanpour’s program on CNN International, Thiessen shows how his argument has simply devolved into farce:
AHMANPOUR: Do you support torture?
THIESSEN: It’s not torture.
AHMANPOUR: I know you don’t call it torture –
THIESSEN: It isn’t torture.
AHMANPOUR: — the extreme pain, the “enhanced interrogation” techniques –
THIESSEN: There’s no extreme pain. There have been so many so misstatements told 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.
AHMANPOUR: Excuse me?
THIESSEN: I’m sorry. You went to S-21, the Khmer Rouge prison, with Van Nath, who’s one of the survivors —
AHMANPOUR: Yes, and we saw the waterboarding there, which they used as a torture technique. That’s called spreading the truth.
THIESSEN: No, no, no, let me read to you what you said. It’s from CNN’s website: “I stared blankly at another of Van Nath’s paintings. This time a prisoner is submerged in a life-size box full of water, handcuffed to the side so he cannot escape or raise his head to breathe. His interrogators, arrayed around him, are demanding information. I asked Vann Nath whether he had heard this was once used on America’s terrorist suspected. He nodded his head. ‘It’s not right.’” That is completely false.
AHMANPOUR: That’s false?
THIESSEN: We did not submerge people in a box of water.
AHMANPOUR: Excuse me a second, that is called waterboarding.
THIESSEN: No it’s not!
AHMANPOUR: You can say it in whichever way you want.
Interestingly, Thiessen insists that “there’s no extreme pain” in waterboarding only moments after reiterating his “real Muslims require torture” argument, which is the idea that jihadist prisoners require a certain level of pain in order to fulfill their obligation to Allah before they can spill the beans about all of their plans. So Thiessen has revealed either that the level of required jihadist pain is not extreme, or that he’s misstating the facts.
If you watch the video, you’ll notice that while Thiessen is making what he apparently believes is a devastatingly clever point about how the CIA never used the “life-size box full of water” method of water torture, the camera pans over this picture — also painted by Vann Nath, and also hangs in in Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum — which is more like the version of water torture used by the CIA:
But (as far as we know right now) Thiessen is right: The CIA did not submerge people in a box of water. Point scored! The CIA did, however, use a different method of water torture also used by the Khmer Rouge. What was Thiessen’s point again? Oh yeah, to waste people’s time arguing over whether a technique developed by torturers as a method of torture should really be called torture when employed by the United States. And, to the extent that people continue to be willing to have him on their programs to have this nonsense argument, he’s having a lot of success with that.