Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Marc Thiessen Daily Show interview

The following links will take you to the extended interview with Marc Thiessen by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

There's a lot of material here, and a lot of questions, ranging from how we ought to detain enemy combatants and habeas corpus matters, to the idea that safety depends on our use of "enhanced interrogation," to whether or not our methods involved torture, and so forth. The clips are lengthy, but thought-provoking to listen to. Thiessen does repeat his claim that terrorists thanked interrogators for waterboarding him, but the audience, and Mr. Stewart, are not quite as passive about that claim as Raymond Arroyo was on EWTN.

One thing that strikes me--Thiessen says the purpose of interrogation is to "break" the person being interrogated. Is that already a step to far in the direction of dehumanizing the prisoner? What do you think?

Another thing--Thiessen swears waterboarding isn't torture when we do it (especially to our own troops) but that it is if others do it to Americans. How is that possible?

By the third part of the interview, Stewart's frustration is evident. He wants to know what would have happened if KSM had resisted waterboarding--Thiessen refuses to answer, and he refuses to contemplate that anything but waterboarding would have worked. It gets interesting.

The interview is well worth watching, and if you do watch, I'd love to hear your comments below. Many thanks to the reader who sent it to me!


  1. It seems to me certainly evil to attempt to 'break' a person. If a person is known to be guilty, then I do not think it necessarily wrong to kill the person. Killing him respects his dignity as a person. For this crime, you must expect the death penalty. 'Breaking' him - to be sure, a bit of a vague term - sounds to me like trying to destroy his dignity.

  2. That's what I was thinking, John. To "break" a human being isn't like "breaking" a horse to discipline, or something--it usually implies some assault to the person's intrinsic humanity, to me.

  3. RE: FM 32-54

    Again I must speak in praise of Army FM 32-54 which teaches that breaking a subject has no interrogation value whatsoever.

    I must also againt point out that Thiessen is nothing but an out of work White House speech writer. He never spent a day in the military, law enforcement or an intelligence service.

    We have only hos word that he in fact spoke to the official government torturers; and that they spoke to him truthfully and he quoted them accurately.

    It is interesting to note that every trained, experienced inteligence professional who has gone public on this matter has taken a stance opposite of Mr. Thiessen.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  4. To break a man is indeed an assault on human dignity, and it's part of what torture always entails. This is what distinguishes it from mere corporal punishment. All torture seeks to "coerce the spirit" or control the will of the victim - this is the object gained by the physical pain inflicted.

  5. First, - good to see you here, Mr. Poet.

    Second, I think we need to have a post discerning between good and productive (and legitimate) means of compulsion of coercion, which respects man as an end rather than a means and helps direct him to the objective good for himself; as opposed to the degrading sort of coercion that turns a person into a means to another end, that does involve "breaking" a person, meaning breaking his integral wholeness and losing sight of his own pursuit of the good for himself.

    I bring this up because we're in the season of Lent, and with all this talk of penance and mortification, and "putting the old man to death" and all that, there seems to be a need to distinction and discernment. Because we've heard the argument before, the petitio principii "well, what kind of coercion is acceptable?" - and I for one hold to the belief that there are some kinds which are legitimate. The question is what phenomenological and moral criterion distinguish one kind from the other.

  6. Arroyo will probably have him back on so they can high-five each other over how Thiessen cleaned Stewart's clock....

  7. RE: Coercion as an interrogation technique

    Coercion is regularly used in our criminal justice system in order to get a plea bargain, close a case and clear the docket.

    However as an interrogation technique it is at best useless and often counter productive. (See FM 34-52)

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  8. @Joey G.

    It's always easier to tear down than to build up. Our basic theology of the Trinity, for example, largely emerged in councils which said, "No, not that!" to various heresies. It's easier to say what's wrong than to articulate what's right.

    And, for that matter, it's often more important to stop what's wrong before being able to put into place what's right.

    Now, I agree completely that we should have some good answers for "what is a humane way of punishing or interrogating someone?" And, as Mark Shea often points out, a historian or professional in the interrogation field would be a good place to start for that.

    But I do want to warn against any expectation of a quick or easy answer. This is likely an area where doctrine needs to develop a little further.

    Even so, one thing we've been told for certain - in case we hadn't figured it out for ourselves - is that torture is not a legitimate moral option.

  9. An example comes to mind why it is sometimes more important to stop an evil even before articulating the ideal.

    In the early nineteenth century in America, the question of whether and how a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society could and should be formed was a good question to ask. But it was imperative that the "option" of enslaving those imported from Africa be opposed and overcome before the question of the ideal could gain any ground.

    Likewise, right now, it's entirely valid to ask what the best way of working with parents who are unable or unwilling to care for their children might be. But it's necessary to overcome abortion (and, I think, contraception, though for slightly different reasons) before we can really speak fruitfully about parenthood.

    In the same way, if we allow torture to become an established policy of our country, then it will be an obstacle to any fruitful discussion of prisoner or criminal justice. We will have stuck ourselves in a barbaric state, which will have to be overcome before we can truly make progress.

  10. "We will have stuck ourselves in a barbaric state, which will have to be overcome before we can truly make progress."

    Good point Robert..(just forget about the 50 million unborn children that have been murdered legally in our country)... we really went barbaric when we poured water over a terrorist's head..

  11. ..then you wonder why you are not taken seriously...

  12. jasper:

    The culture of death is not limited to the sin of abortion. A single mortal sin imperils the salvation of a soul. A single immortal soul is worth more than the entire created universe.

    "then you wonder why you are not taken seriously"

    Last I looked water boarding has been outlawed and its practitioners live under fear of indictment. I think Robert et al has been taken very seriously.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  13. The business comparing lawyers who represent captives pro bono to paid mafia lawyers, and publishing information about those lawyers in order to encourage harrassment by the pro-torture part of the public, is a new low. <irony>Why not publish the schools and sports teams that the children of torture supporters attend?</irony>

    The Thing That Used To Be Conservatism indeed.

  14. Last I looked water boarding has been outlawed and its practitioners live under fear of indictment.

    True, but if the polls are to be trusted, seven in ten Americans think torture can be justified at least some of the time -- and I think Catholics are overrepresented in that group. Until torture is unthinkable, it will be thought of under extreme circumstances, and then laws will change.

  15. @jasper -

    For the record: I was perhaps unclear. I meant that maintaining a policy of torture would be an ADDITIONAL barbarism to that of abortion which is currently practiced, and that of slavery which had been practiced until the Civil War.

    I'm doing my best not to interpret your comments in the worst possible light. I would appreciate it if you would render me (and the other authors on this site) the same courtesy.