Marc Thiessen

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Marc Thiessen served as Chief Speechwriter to President George W. Bush from 2004-2008 and as Chief Speechwriter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from 2001-2004.

Prior to joining the Bush Administration, Thiessen spent more than six years on Capitol Hill as spokesman and senior policy advisor to Senator Jesse Helms.[1] Thiessen was also press secretary for the 1994 Huffington for Senate campaign in California. He worked for Congressman Vin Weber at the think tank Empower America and spent his first five years in Washington at the public affairs firm of Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly.[2] Thiessen’s writing has appeared in numerous publications including Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and National Review and he has appeared frequently on television and radio, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, and NPR.[1][2]

Currently, Thiessen is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the principals of Oval Office Writers, LLC.[2]

Defending Torture Tactics

Thiessen has been a vocal proponent of torture as an supposedly effective method to obtain information, both during and after his work in the Bush Administration. Recently, Thiessen has written a book defending waterboarding, a torture tactic used by the Bush Administration. [3] In his new book, "Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack," Thiessen argues that not only is waterboarding a useful tactic but it is also permitted by Catholic Church teachings. [4] Thiessen explained it as: “There’s a standard of torture in civil law, which is severe mental pain and suffering. I also have a common-sense definition, which is, ‘If you’re willing to try it, it’s not torture." [5] So because "Thousands of American soldiers have been willing to undergo waterboarding as part of their resistance training, Mr. Thiessen notes; therefore, it stands to reason that it is not torture." [6]

Thiessen also heavily criticizes President Obama for not putting pressure on Pakistanis to use torture to obtain intelligence from captured Taliban deputy commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. [7] Additionally, Thiessen argues that President Obama's stance against torture has prevented U.S. interrogators from using tools on hand to compel information from terrorist captures. [8] Thiessen has stated that detainees are enemy combatants and therefore the Geneva Convention does not apply to them. [9]

Critics Refute Thiessen's Claims

Former Senior U.S. Military Interrogator Matthew Alexander highlights some of the highly erroneous arguments presented in Thiessen's new book. Nowhere in his book does Thiessen presents the opinions of experienced military interrogators who have successfully interrogated terrorist suspects. [10] Furthermore, Theissen presents the idea that torture was the only way to obtain intelligence, which is not true. "There is Eric Maddox, the U.S. Army interrogator who located Saddam Hussein (as told in his excellent book Mission: Black List #1).There is also Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who successfully interrogated Abu Zubaydah. In Iraq, my own team successfully interrogated many mid- and high-level leaders of al-Qaida while hunting Abu Musab Al Zarqawi." [11] Thiessen also fails to mention several key cases on waterboarding. For example, his book does not discuss the Texas case, where a Sheriff and his deputies for sentenced to four years in prison for waterboarding prisoners. [12] Thiessen also fails to consider army doctrine regarding torture in his book. Army regulations caution: "Revelation of use of torture by US personnel will bring discredit upon the US and its armed forces while undermining domestic and international support for the war effort. It may also place US and allied personnel in enemy hands at greater risk of abuse by their captors." [13]

Alexander ends on a policy note as he writes: "Thiessen and the torture apologists mock every American soldier who has followed the rules of law and ethical warfare. He insults every interrogator who has learned to elicit information without resorting to medieval abuses. The America that I know and signed up to defend does not stand exclusively for security. It also stands for freedom, justice, and liberty. It stands for universal rights afforded to every human being (even unlawful combatants or "detained persons"). America, as Thiessen surely has written into many a presidential speech, is a beacon of light precisely because it represents the protection of basic human rights. Yet, in Courting Disaster, Thiessen thoroughly villainizes those who defend individual rights against the state (such as members of the Center for Constitutional Rights). Thiessen's ideology represents exactly what we are fighting against in the battle with Islamic extremism—the regression of human rights and the sacrifice of individual protections to the state." [14]

On the Daily Show, Jon Stewart heavily criticized Thiessen for supporting the Keep America Safe advertisement persecuting DOJ attorneys, who previously represented Guantanamo detainees prior to working in the DOJ. [1] In the interview, Stewart refused to accept Thiessen's rationale that detainees are not entitled to attorney representation because they have yet to be charged with a formal crime. Stewart raises the point that the Supreme Court had already ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsefeld that detainees are entitled to representation as well as that President Bush lacked the authority to try detainees via military tribunal. [15]. Stewart then asked Thiessen if America should now begin referring to the Supreme Court as "al-Qaida Nine?"

Additionally, Thiessen has been criticized heavily by both liberal and conservative Catholics, who state that Thiessen has misrepresented Catholic teachings. [16] "The philosopher Christopher O. Tollefsen, whose essay attacking Mr. Thiessen’s views appeared Friday in the online magazine Public Discourse, pointed in a phone interview to the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. There, Pope John Paul II wrote that there are acts that “are always seriously wrong by reason of their object,” including “whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity.”" [17] Furthermore, with both conservative and liberal Catholics indicates how wrong Thiessen's viewpoint on waterboarding really is. [18]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 "About Marc Thiessen", Marc Thiessen (Blog), accessed January 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Team", Oval Office Writers Group, accessed January 2010.
  3. Mark Oppenheimer,"Marc Thiessen Gets an Earful for Waterboarding Views,","New York Times,"February 26, 2010.
  4. Id.
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Spencer Ackerman,"Marc Thiessen Truly Has No Idea What He's Talking About on Interrogation,","The Washington Independent,"February 22, 2010.
  8. Id.
  9. Neal Conan,"Should Lawyers Represent Terrorists,","NPR: Talk of the Nation,"March 15, 2010.
  10. Matthew Alexander,"A Former Interrogator Unearths the Errors and Fear-Mongering in Marc Thiessen's Courting Disaster,","Slate Magazine,"March, 3, 2010.
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Matthew Alexander,"A Former Interrogator Unearths the Errors and Fear-Mongering in Marc Thiessen's Courting Disaster,","Slate Magazine,"March, 3, 2010.
  15. BBC News,"US Guantanamo Tribunals illegal,","BBC News,"June 29, 2006,
  16. Mark Oppenheimer,"Marc Thiessen Gets an Earful for Waterboarding Views,","New York Times,"February 26, 2010.
  17. Id.
  18. Id.

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