Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, which, according to many critics, sanctioned torture and yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit. In addition, Thiessen attacks the Obama Administration for having banned techniques such as waterboarding. “Americans could die as a result,” he writes.As Jane Mayer points out, there are problems with torture beyond its horribly wrong-headed ethics, it is practically bad:
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.”
Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.
Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert who is writing a history of the Bush Administration’s “war on terror,” told me that the Heathrow plot “was disrupted by a combination of British intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, and Scotland Yard.” He noted that authorities in London had “literally wired the suspects’ bomb factory for sound and video.” It was “a classic law-enforcement and intelligence success,” Bergen said, and “had nothing to do with waterboarding or with Guantánamo detainees.”
Tellingly, Thiessen does not address the many false confessions given by detainees under torturous pressure, some of which have led the U.S. tragically astray. Nowhere in this book, for instance, does the name Ibn Sheikh al-Libi appear. In 2002, the C.I.A., under an expanded policy of extraordinary rendition, turned Libi over to Egypt to be brutalized. Under duress, Libi falsely linked Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s alleged biochemical-weapons program, in Iraq. In February, 2003, former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an influential speech in which he made the case for going to war against Iraq and prominently cited this evidence.And this book is built on lies:
Perhaps the most outlandish falsehood in “Courting Disaster” is Thiessen’s portrayal of Obama and the Democrats as the sole opponents of brutal interrogation tactics. Thiessen presents the termination of the C.I.A. program as a renegade action by President Obama, who has “eliminated our nation’s most important tool to prevent terrorists from striking America.” Yet Thiessen knows that waterboarding and other human-rights abuses, such as dispatching prisoners into secret indefinite detention, were abandoned by the Bush Administration: he wrote the very speech announcing, in 2006, that the Administration was suspending their use.This is just one of a series of books by ex-Bush aides trying to prop up and whitewash the sordid history of the Bush administration. This may fool some people right now, but historians will filter out the lies from the truth and history will judge Bush harshly. He was the incompetent, but harshly ideological, offspring of a former president. He fell in with fanatic neocons that hijacked the US off on a wild crusade against enemies imagined and real. They trampled tradition and common sense in their rush to recreate a new world order in the image of their overheated imaginations.