Marc Thiessen Finally Sours On Torture

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.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. Yes, a good debating point. But scoring aside, don’t you think the Michigan people were too dumb and genuinely marginal to actually do anything? I know McVeigh and his accomplice are the large counterexample– white Middle American terrorists who actually killed people. But terrorist Jihadis often seem to be to a reasonably educated bunch, and much more likely to plan something and put it into motion. Plus they have a more structured set of grievances. This Michigan plot sounds so ridiculous that I can’t imagine it going forward, much less killing anyone.

  2. Mark Thiessen is such a perfect accomplice to the Kagans. The torture supporting, physically feckless neo-cons.

    I know it’s not healthy to want to kick the ass of all these torture supporters, it’s just that I generally try to assume the premises of my adversary–THEY’RE THEY ONE’S JUSTIFYING TORTURE, I HAD to fight ’em.

  3. “undeniably repulsive mass murderer like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed”

    You seem to have drunk the kool-aid. KSM is undeniably repulsive: looks like Norman Podhoretz

    Why do you assume he’s a mass murderer?

    Because someone told you?

    Have you ever wondered why Bin Laden resigned from the “9/11 mastermind” position?

    Do you think Al Qaeda held interviews? I didn’t see the job posting myself, ” please enclose passport sized photo of your unshaven self in a dirty wifebeater.”

    “Undercover Agent Played a Role in Probe”

    You do realize that The Michigan Militia plot was just one more FBI patsie operation.

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