It was with some disappointment that I read today’s new column from Marc Thiessen, the former George W. Bush speechwriter, new Washington Post columnist, and noted waterboarding enthusiast. After all, the previous day had seen the arrests of nine people in connection with a terrorist plot against law enforcement officers in Michigan. According to the New York Times, the nine “planned to kill an unidentified law enforcement officer and then bomb the funeral caravan using improvised explosive devices based on designs used against American troops by insurgents in Iraq.” While there was no word about whether there were any accomplices still at large, media reports noted that the nine were part of a larger militant group, leaving open the possibility that some of their comrades might still be hatching similar designs.
Surely, I thought, Thiessen would take the lead in demanding that the government “get tough” with the would-be terrorists, declare them enemy combatants, and have them waterboarded to get all the details about their group. Recall his reaction to the last major terror attempt in Michigan–the failed Christmas Day airline bombing plot by the “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Thiessen excoriated the Obama administration repeatedly for treating Abdulmutallab as a criminal, reading him his Miranda rights, and failing to waterboard him for information. Given all this, how could Thiessen fail to be outraged by the government’s intolerably lax response to the Michigan bombing plot?
Yet today’s Thiessen column brings no mention of the terror plot; instead, it is a rather dry piece on the Nevada Senate race lacking all of the passion that Thiessen brings to his praises of torture. What caused him to suddenly lose interest in Keeping America Safe from terrorists?
The simplest explanation for the discrepancy is this: Abdulmutallab is a dark-skinned Muslim with an “Arab-sounding” name, while the Michigan Nine are right-wing white Christian militants with Anglo-Saxon names. (Before anyone claims that the difference is that the Michigan Nine are U.S. citizens and Abdulmutallab isn’t, recall that Thiessen and his allies also supported declaring U.S. citizen Jose Padilla an enemy combatant and holding him indefinitely without charges.) It appears that Thiessen’s enthusiasm for “enhanced interrogation techniques” only lasts as long as the suspects in question are Muslims.
I’ve often suspected that a great deal of right-wing support for torture is based on a (perhaps-unconscious) assurance that its victims will always be people with funny names who look and talk different from “real Americans”. Even in the case of an undeniably repulsive mass murderer like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, I suspect much of the enthusiasm for torturing and denying judicial process to KSM would dissipate if he had a nice American name like “Timothy McVeigh”. Thiessen’s inconsistencies are just another piece of evidence for this theory.