Did Torture Apologist Thiessen Get Played By The CIA?

Yesterday, Jeff Stein reported that “John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who affirmed claims that waterboarding quickly unloosed the tongues of hard-core terrorists, says he didn’t know what he was talking about.”

Kiriakou, a 15-year veteran of the agency’s intelligence analysis and operations directorates, electrified the hand-wringing national debate over torture in December 2007 when he told ABC’s Brian Ross and Richard Esposito in a much ballyhooed, exclusive interview that senior al Qaeda commando Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the face cloth and water.[…]

Now comes John Kiriakou, again, with a wholly different story. On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up. […]

“I wasn’t there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I’d heard and read inside the agency at the time.”[…]

“Now we know,” Kiriakou goes on, “that Zubaydah was waterboarded eighty-three times in a single month, raising questions about how much useful information he actually supplied.”

Kiriakou also claims in his book “that the disinformation he helped spread was a CIA dirty trick: ‘In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.’”


Kiriakou’s disavowal of his claims drew a frantic response from Bush administration speechwriter and leading torture apologist Marc Thiessen, who has cited the Abu Zubaydah stories repeatedly in his work. Thiessen insisted “I have spoken to the people who — unlike Kirakou — were in the room for the interrogations of Zubaydah, KSM and other terrorists held by the CIA.”

Thiessen admits, then, that he, like Kiriakou, wasn’t actually there for any of these interrogations, and that he, like Kiriakou, got all of his information second-hand. This raises the interesting question of whether Thiessen got played by his CIA sources, who saw Thiessen as a willing dupe in their effort to cover their behinds, as Kiriakou now claims to have been.

Meanwhile, Tom Ricks shares his account of a recent lecture given by intelligence and interrogation expert Army Col. Stuart Herrington. According to Ricks, “was one of the first people to blow the whistle on Abu Ghraib and on the broader abuse of prisoners that was occurring in many locations in Iraq back then.”

One of the most striking aspects of [Herrington’s] talk is the cold professional contempt he has for Cheney, Rumsfeld and others who not only encouraged a brutal approach, but were amateurish in doing so.

Herrington began his talk by looking back to Vietnam, where he insisted on providing his prisoners(and intelligence targets) with “unconditional decent treatment-food, medical care and clothing.” He showed his Vietnamese colleagues, fond of using “water torture and electrocution,” that “One can employ legions of effective stratagems to achieve control over a potential recruit, but brutality, abuse and torture have no place.”

His bottom line:

“There was no room on our team for charlatans who believed in sleep deprivation, inducing hypothermia, stress positions, face slapping, forced nudity, water boarding, blaring heavy metal music, or other amateurish, ineffective and ethically flawed tricks.”

As of January 20, 2009, that’s America’s bottom line too.