His opinion SEEMS to be that:
-Waterboarding is the worst tactic "authorized"
-Waterboarding, as authorized if at all, is not torture.
-There are 6 years of misinformation out there that has led people to incorrectly identify w/b as torture.
Now, there is certainly room for disagreement there, but I think if "Clarity" is the goal, then you at least have to deal with his assertion that there is a fundamental misunderstanding as to what the U.S. authorizes as waterboarding.
And failing that and instantly casting him as "pro-torture" when he explicitly states that he does not believe it is torture, does not provide any clarity either.
I think this is the sort of objection that ought to be addressed, so I'll take it one point at a time:
A. Waterboarding is the "worst" tactic authorized.
The truth is that we don't know this. Waterboarding has been the tactic that has received, arguably, the greatest amount of media attention and discussion. But in this ABC list of enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA there are other methods that might, arguably, be as much acts of physical or moral violence as waterboarding. I think that the "cold cell" technique of making a prisoner stand naked in a 50 degree cell while being doused repeatedly with cold water is on a level with waterboarding, myself.
B. Waterboarding, as authorized if at all, is not torture. Here, from that same ABC news list, is a description of waterboarding:
Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.
And here are two videos showing conservative radio Erich "Mancow" Muller being waterboarded voluntarily. Muller, ironically enough, was trying to prove that waterboarding is not torture:
Thiessen's assertion that waterboarding is not torture would seem to be the statement that demands factual corroboration. But that takes us to the third point:
C. There are 6 years of misinformation out there that has led people to incorrectly identify w/b as torture.
Now, the main features of waterboarding seem to be as follows: the person is restrained, the person's face is covered, the person's head is tilted back, and water is poured into the person's nose and mouth while he is kept in that position. Is Marc Thiessen claiming that whatever the CIA does, it doesn't involve restraining the prisoner, covering the prisoner's face, tilting the prisoner's head back, and pouring water into the prisoner's nose and mouth to make the prisoner experience the sensation of drowning? If what the CIA does is substantially different from that (e.g., the prisoner is not restrained, the prisoner's face is not covered and/or his head is not tilted back, or water is not poured into the prisoner's nose and mouth such that he experiences the symptoms of drowning) then in what way is it different? Is it different enough that "waterboarding" is somehow a misnomer?
If waterboarding involves the forcible restraint of a person, the covering of that person's nose and mouth and/or the simultaneous forced tilting backward of the head, and the pouring into that person's nose/mouth a sufficient quantity of water to cause the person to experience all the sensations of drowning, including the possible aspiration of water into the lungs, the panic associated with being unable to breathe, the flight reaction which is thwarted by the restraints, etc., then waterboarding is torture--that is, it involves using physical or moral violence in a way that is contrary to the respect we owe another person and that person's innate dignity.
Again, the burden of proof that waterboarding is somehow not torture is on the person making that assertion. Is the person not restrained? Is he free to leave? Is he free to raise his head and expel the water naturally? Is the flow of water stopped long before the symptoms of drowning are experienced? One would think not, in an interrogation situation--though it is interesting that the radio host, Mr. Muller, was in fact free to leave, etc., yet still (and with obvious reluctance!) labeled what he had undergone as torture.
The burden of proof of any assertion that waterboarding is somehow not torture is on those people making that assertion. There is nothing about waterboarding which magically makes it avoid using physical or moral violence in a coercive and inhumane way; in fact, in an interrogation situation where the person experiencing this particular horror is wholly in the power of those inflicting it waterboarding takes on a particularly torturous hue. If Marc Thiessen swears that despite all appearances waterboarding isn't torture, it's up to him to prove it.