The Joker

We already know that Marc Thiessen's case for the acceptability of "enhanced interrogation techniques" under Catholic moral teaching is a jumble of dubious assertions, glaring omissions, and outright falsehoods. You may not be surprised to learn that his new book, Courting Disaster—a fearmongering defense of the Bush Adminstration's "war on terror" policies—is composed in precisely the same way. But it is stunning to realize just how obviously mendacious his argument is. For an overview, see Jane Mayer's review in the March 29 New Yorker. Here's an illustrative excerpt:

Thiessen presents the C.I.A. interrogation program as an unqualified success. "In the decade before the C.I.A. began interrogating captured terrorists, Al Qaeda launched repeated attacks against America," he writes. "In the eight years since the C.I.A. began interrogating captured terrorists, Al Qaeda has not succeeded in launching one single attack on the homeland or American interests abroad." This is not exactly a textbook demonstration of causality. Moreover, the claim that American interests have been invulnerable since the C.I.A. began waterboarding is manifestly untrue. Al Qaeda has launched numerous attacks against U.S. targets abroad since 9/11, including the 2004 attack on the Hilton Hotel in Taba, Egypt; the 2003 and 2009 attacks on hotels in Indonesia; four attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi; and the assassination of Lawrence Foley, a U.S. diplomat, in Jordan. In 2007, Al Qaeda attacked Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, killing two Americans and twenty-one others, in a failed attempt to assassinate Cheney, who was visiting. Indeed, Al Qaedas relentless campaign in Afghanistan has helped bring about the near-collapse of U.S. policy there. In Iraq, the Al Qaeda faction led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers.

Perhaps it only counts as an "American interest" if Marc Thiessen is interested in talking about it.

One thing Thiessen likes to talk about is waterboarding, and how it absolutely is not torture. If you still think that's an open question, you may want to read this Salon article by Mark Benjamin detailing exactly what "waterboarding" has involved. His account, like Mayer's able takedown of Thiessen, is based on publicly available information—in Benjamin's case, "recently released internal documents," including the OPR report released in February. It's gruesome, but I think it's important to know exactly what's being defended by Thiessen and his ilk.

If you should happen to find yourself holding a copy of Courting Disaster, I recommend skipping ahead to pages 369-70. There, according to Media Matters, you will find Thiessen rebutting President Obama's assertion that "[I]nstead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause." Thiessen claims (seriously) that Obama's statement is "demonstrably false" because "The terrorists found other excuses to recruit the operatives for these attacks [that occurred prior to the CIA interrogations program]. Evil always finds an excuse." Now, the fact that al Qaeda existed before the U.S. started torturing its detainees in no way demonstrates that al Qaeda did not use what happened at Gitmo (and elsewhere) to recruit later on. But what if Thiessen added a description of the plot of Batman: The Dark Knight? Then would you be convinced? Let's try it. (Oh, and spoiler alert.)

In the movie Batman: The Dark Knight, whenever the Joker is about to kill one of his victims, he points to the scars that form his hideous smile and tells the story of how he got his disfiguring wounds. Each time it is a different story. The first time he says they were carved into his face by an abusive father. The next time, he claims he did it to himself after criminals disfigured his wife. But when he says to Batman, "Do you know how I got these scars?" Batman says, "No, but I know how you got these," and pushes him off the side of a building. Batman is not interested in the villain's made-up excuses. We shouldn't be, either.

We shouldn't be interested in made-up excuses. That's the smartest thing I've heard Thiessen say yet.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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