Thiessen Still Defending A Failed Strategy

Our guest blogger is Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Mark Thiessen, a former Bush administration speechwriter, has been waging a non-stop partisan political campaign to destroy Americans’ faith that their government can keep them safe. His latest gambit is to question the integrity of a career public servant, John Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the CIA and President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser. The tragic consequences of his efforts will be to undermine the effectiveness of America’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies that are protecting all of us, Republicans and Democrats, from future terrorist attacks.

On Meet the Press Sunday, Brennan responded to criticisms from key Congressional Republicans over the administration’s handling of Umar Faroul Abdulmuttalab, the failed Christmas bomber, by pointing out that he had kept them informed:

On Christmas night, I called a number of senior members of Congress. I spoke to Senators McConnell and Bond, I spoke to Representative Boehner and Hoekstra. I explained to them that he was in FBI custody, that Mr. Abdulmutallab was, in fact, talking, that he was cooperating at that point. They knew that “in FBI custody” means that there’s a process then you follow as far as Mirandizing and presenting him in front of a magistrate. None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point.

For that statement, Mark Thiessen, who has either been a speechwriter or a press spokesperson his entire career, called Brennan a liar.

Thiessen’s not claiming that Brennan didn’t call them, or that these four Republicans actually did raise concerns. Thiessen calls Brennan a liar because, according to Thiessen, these four Republicans didn’t know that the FBI Mirandizes people in it detains in the United States. Thiessen bases his theory of Republican confusion about Miranda on a Washington Post story on the Obama administration’s plan to form a High-Value Interrogation Group (HIG) which wouldn’t automatically Mirandize those detainees it interrogated.

Sounds great, except the problem is that the FBI does not have a choice whether to Mirandize people detained in the United States. There is a public emergency exception that allows for questioning without Miranda warnings, which the FBI used to question Abdulmuttalab prior to his entering surgery. The HIG, in contrast, was designed specifically to make sure the CIA stays out of the torture business and is directed at detainees captured outside the United States who may never face the prospect of trial in a U.S. court. It would be bizarre to automatically Mirandize detainees in those circumstances.

None of this matters to Thiessen, though, because this is about politics not policy, and in politics ignorance is strength.

Never mind that because the Obama administration publicly rejected the Bush administration’s use of torture, which Thiessen still defends as necessary, Abdulmutallab’s family agreed to work with the FBI to secure his cooperation. And it’s producing results. Never mind that when the Bush administration tried to do detention the way Thiessen still thinks it should be done, holding Jose Padilla in military custody without access to his family or lawyers, Padilla was still not cooperating after seven months, and never supplied much useful information.

In the Author’s Note of his book, Courting Disaster, Thiessen complains that he shouldn’t really have to write the book at all but irresponsible people have twisted information “to paint our intelligence community as a band of rogue operators who abandoned our ideals in the fight against terror.” Maybe he should check the mirror before he twists information in order to call a career public servant and senior national security official like John Brennan a liar.

We’ve tried detention and interrogation the way Thiessen wants to do it, and it was a spectacular failure. It undercut our international reputation as a defender of human rights. It helped recruit terrorists to Al Qaeda’s cause. It made us less safe. The Obama administration has chosen a path that is working but is facing unrelenting criticism from people like Mark Thiessen. One really gets the sense that Thiessen wants the Obama administration to fail.

Maybe he does. After all, this is the guy who took to the pages on the Washington Post just two days after Obama took office to warn, “if Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible — and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.” It doesn’t sound like that’s something that would disappoint him.