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Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Marc A. Thiessen

Marc Thiessen knows, in ways that few others do, just how effective, heroic, and morally justified were the interrogators who kept this nation safe after 9/11. If you want to know what really happened behind the scenes at the CIA interrogation sites … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: Marc A. Thiessen
Genre: Nonfiction
Publisher: Regnery Press
1 review about Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America...

Playing with fire

  • Mar 13, 2010
It has been said so many times before that it's become a cliché: the events of September 11 2001 changed everything. What is usually meant by "everything" refers to the way the US and its allies treat terrorists and conduct operations to thwart and punish those who aim to hurt and civilian targets around the World. In the eyes of many, including the Bush administration, the previous paradigm of conducting these operations using the essentially law enforcement tools was completely discredited. A different approach was needed, and the overall moniker that this new approach acquired was "The War on Terror." This name has since acquired a whole host of negative connotations, based on the perception of misuse of power on the part of US government as it pursued its own interests around the globe. However, the main point of calling this a war was to enable all the relevant agencies to use means and methods that are more appropriate for the conduct of war, rather than police actions. The fact that this elicited a lot of controversy is not surprising: the enemy in this war did not operate from a controlled and well defined territory, it did not use conventional military structures and identifications, nor did it respect any conventions of war. This was definitely an unprecedented new kind of conflict, and the Bush administration needed to be very creative in the way it conducted it. One of the major decisions that were made was to treat captured terrorists as enemy combatants, and in particular enemy combatants that were not entitled to full protection of the Geneva Convention. This had many significant consequences. In particular, it allowed US to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" that could never be used on civilians caught during a police action, nor even for the regular war prisoners. Until recently there has been no public acknowledgment that these techniques had been used by the US investigators (CIA in particular) primarily because the Bush administration felt that revealing this fact would jeopardize the national security and make those techniques obsolete. For better or worse, Bush administration's decision to reveal the existence and Obama administration's decision to reveal the details of those techniques has made it possible for everyone to make up their own mind about whether or not those techniques were reasonable, ethical and lawful. By far the most eloquent and unapologetic attempt at defending those techniques thus far has come from Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

Thiessen's close associations with the President and Secretary of Defense during all eight years of Bush administration make him eminently qualified to present the defense and the rationale for the use of those techniques. In fact, he wrote President Bush's speech that acknowledged the existence of the enhanced interrogation techniques. In that speech (which is included as one of the appendices) and more broadly in this book Thiessen has aimed to defend and justify the prudence, the morality and the legality of those interrogation techniques. He quotes extensively from first-hand accounts of the interrogations, those who were responsible for the crafting and the implementation of those policies, as well as all the documents that have since become publicly available. The book is also very good at pointing out the deficiencies, misinformation, faulty reasoning, and the downright lies of many critics of the enhanced interrogation program over the years. It is hard for me to ascertain how representative those criticisms are, but Thiessen has done a superb job of dismantling them in a clear and methodical fashion.

Tiessen is very forthright in identifying particular political and ideological biases of various actors in this narrative. In the age when "partisanship" is increasingly becoming a dirty word, it is refreshing to see a prominent author label things by their proper names.

The central thesis of this book, reflected in its title, is that the dismantling of those interrogation techniques has gotten us back into a pre-9/11 mentality, with all the possible ramifications that this entails. In particular, Thiessen believes that this outmoded approach invites possible new attack on US and its allies around the world. He presents dramatic and persuasive evidence to bolster his claims. We can all hope that nothing this disastrous happens in the end, but hoping by itself would seem to be a rather reckless approach to the danger of terrorism. Whether or not you believe that the enhanced interrogation techniques are an important and effective tool in the fight against terrorism, it would be prudent to at least acknowledge the unique circumstances under which they were employed. In a democratic society we all benefit from hearing all sides on any given issue, and Marc Thiessen's book is an important voice in the defense of the enhanced interrogation techniques that needs to be heard. This book is an invaluable contribution to this ongoing debate.

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