Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marc Thiessen, Ideologically Blinded Moron

Marc Thiessen’s propensity for writing ideologically-driven nonsense on the pages of the Washington Post sets him apart, well, not all, from most of the rest of that paper’s columnists. The deficiencies of the WaPo’s Op-Ed page are well known and oft commented upon. Thiessen, though, is particularly objectionable in part for his mindless defense of all things Bush and attack of all things Obama—much in the way the Bush administration approached the Clinton administration to its ultimate determent, see 9/11—and in part for his suborning evil (read: torture).

Among the strange positions he’s taken are an opposition to targeted killing (because it demonstrates Obama is weak on terrorism) and opposition to civilian trials for terrorists (because it demonstrates Obama is weak on terrorism). In his most recent diatribe he writes:
The Ghailani prosecution is hanging by a thread today not because of the interrogation techniques employed against him, but because of the Obama administration's ideological insistence on treating terrorists like common criminals and trying them in federal courts.

There are myriad problems with this statement. One obvious problem is that the Ghailani prosecution is not hanging by a thread—if it were, the government likely would have pursued an interlocutory appeal of the decision that inspired Thiessen’s Op-Ed. Another obvious problem is that the reason for the set back in the Ghailani case has nothing to with the Obama administration—it has everything to do with the Bush administration's program of using overly harsh interrogation methods at secret prisons. The setback, if it is a setback at all, can be place squarely at the feet of the Bush administration, Thiessen’s former employer.

Ultimately, though, the oddest part of Thiessen’s preferred approach—“they can be held indefinitely under the laws of war”—is its implicit elevation of Ghailani, a terrorist, to the status of a soldier. Combatants and civilians directly participating in hostilities are detainable—not indefinitely, but until the end of hostilities—under the law of armed conflict. This is not meant to punish the combatants but to remove them from the battlefield and return them, unharmed and unpunished, once the war has ceased. Terrorists, on the other hand, are criminals: they have not killed other combatants (legitimate targets); they have not targeted infrastructure of military import and utility; they have not abided by the laws or customs of war. No, they have killed untargetable civilians, attacked civilian infrastructure: they have committed murder. They ought to be treated as criminals—and soldiers, including our soldiers, deserve better than Thiessen’s implicit moral equivalence with terrorists.

Finally, from a pragmatic perspective, civilian trials have proved eminently more effective than CSRTs or Military Commissions in dealing with terrorists. Since 9/11, upwards of 300 terrorists have been successfully prosecuted and convicted in civilian courts, garnering something like a 90% conviction rate. In contrast, 70% of detainees at GTMO who have challenged their detention through habeas corpus proceedings have won.

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