Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The New Yorker corrects the Thiessen account on torture and interrogation

Jane Mayer deserves some sort of special prize for all her writings — a book and articles — on the U.S. government’s shameful and counterproductive use since 9/11 of torture in interrogations. I mention this because of her terrific review in the new issue of the New Yorker of a book by Marc Thiessen, a ...

newyorker.com
newyorker.com
newyorker.com

Jane Mayer deserves some sort of special prize for all her writings -- a book and articles -- on the U.S. government's shameful and counterproductive use since 9/11 of torture in interrogations. I mention this because of her terrific review in the new issue of the New Yorker of a book by Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush, who makes all sorts of wild claims about how well torture worked in protecting the country.

Here's a taste of the masterful job Mayer does of exposing the Thiessen book:

Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is "completely and utterly wrong," according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch in 2006. "The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.," Clarke said, adding that Thiessen's "version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006." Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London's public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, "used exactly the same materials."

Jane Mayer deserves some sort of special prize for all her writings — a book and articles — on the U.S. government’s shameful and counterproductive use since 9/11 of torture in interrogations. I mention this because of her terrific review in the new issue of the New Yorker of a book by Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush, who makes all sorts of wild claims about how well torture worked in protecting the country.

Here’s a taste of the masterful job Mayer does of exposing the Thiessen book:

Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is “completely and utterly wrong,” according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006. “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.,” Clarke said, adding that Thiessen’s “version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.” Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London’s public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, “used exactly the same materials.”

Nothing beats an on-the record response from those involved. The line I am getting from Theissen’s defenders is that, Well, he criticized her, too, in his book. Let’s see: One person is a reporter who worked alongside me the Wall Street Journal. The other was a flack for Jesse Helms and Rumsfeld. Who am I more likely to trust? It puzzles me that my old newspaper, The Washington Post, would hire Theissen to write for its op-ed page. How many former Bush speechwriters does one newspaper need?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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