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Courting Disaster Author Marc Thiessen On Why Mirandizing The Times Square Terrorist Is Such A Bad Idea

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

HH: Joined now by Marc Thiessen. He is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute where he blogs regularly at He is also the author of Courting Disaster: How The CIA Kept America Safe, And How Barack Obama Is Inviting The Next Attack, a hugely successful book, and we interviewed Marc about that. Marc, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s great to talk to you.

MT: Hey, it’s great to be back on. Thanks for having me.

HH: Marc, first question, how did this guy get on a plane if he was on the no-fly list?

MT: It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable. Thank goodness they got him. It sounds like, from what the press reports are saying, is that the airline actually tagged him because he bought a ticket to Dubai with cash, and they called the authorities, and they tracked him down. It’s an amazing story.

HH: Now he has been Mirandized, after he originally waived his Miranda rights. What do you think about that decision?

MT: It’s unbelievable that we haven’t learned the lesson. You know, this is the second time in four months that a bomb has malfunctioned, and that we’ve averted disaster by the malfunctioning of a bomb. In the first time, the terrorist was supposed to be vaporized with the plane that he was blowing up back in Christmas, on Christmas Day. And instead, like manna from Heaven, this high value terrorist landed in our laps, and we read him his rights, and told him he had the right to remain silent, a right he exercised for at least five weeks before they started plea bargaining with him. Now, here we are again, a high value terrorist, potentially high value terrorist who could tell us whether, what connections, if any, he had to al Qaeda or to the Taliban, who, what he was doing for five months in Pakistan before he came to America to blow up a car in Times Square, and who trained him, and he’s been Mirandized. It’s just, it’s beyond belief.

HH: Now I believe, Marc Thiessen, there is an extraordinary amount of misunderstanding in the mainstream media about what we are arguing. I personally am not arguing that he be remanded as an unlawful combatant, but that he not be Mirandized, because I don’t warn him what he could and could not say. And in fact, we don’t need much to convict this guy, even in an American court, civilian court down the road. What’s your position on what ought to be done with him?

MT: No, you’ve got it exactly right. We may in fact want to try him in a civilian court, and eventually read him his Miranda rights. But what Miranda, basically all Miranda does, people have this perception that you have to read someone their Miranda rights when you arrest them. You don’t actually have to read them their Miranda rights. You have to read them their Miranda rights if you want to use what they say in court. So what it shows when they read their Miranda rights is, is that their first priority is to gain evidence that they can use for prosecution. What we want to do is get intelligence that we can use to stop new terrorist attacks. That should be the first priority.

HH: Agreed.

MT: And so when you Mirandize the guy, and he stops talking, then you’re losing valuable time, because the intelligence he has is perishable.

HH: Now is there anything that we could possible learn, could we possibly learn everything we could learn from this guy in under 24 hours, because they say well, he waived his Miranda rights, we talked to him, and then we Mirandize them, and I argued, and I’ll play you a little bit of my conversation with Michael Isikoff from last hour, that it can’t possibly, it can’t possibly be what the bottom of the well for this guy, within 24 hours.

MT: Well, the guy spent five months in Pakistan. If he tells us everything he knows after five months in Pakistan in less than 24 hours, I’d be very surprised. And the thing about it is, Hugh, is that there’s two kinds of high value terrorists. There are the high value terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who are senior leaders of al Qaeda, who have deep knowledge of the operational plans for the terrorist movement, and so on and so forth. And so they’re, the information they have is, has a long shelf life. Then, there’s a second kind of high value target, which is a guy like this that you captured, who is just deployed, and was, you know, he knows where he was trained, who trained him, who gave him the money, and those sorts of things, and that information is perishable, because as soon as they know he’s in custody, they immediately start covering up his tracks. And so you’re in a race against time to get intelligence, and to exploit that intelligence as quickly as you can to round up other people. Now it sounds like they’ve rounded up some people in Pakistan, which is a good thing. But they can’t have possibly gotten everything in such a short period of time. They should be holding him and talking to him for much longer than 24 hours. No question.

HH: I’m talking with Marc Thiessen, author of Courting Disaster. Marc, I want to play you a little bit of my conversation with Michael Isikoff, because I think it goes to the problem we have with the American media in the age of terror. Here is a little bit of that segment from last hour.

HH: Now Marc Thiessen will be on the program next hour, former Dick Cheney aide…

MI: I’m sure he wants to waterboard him, and figure that’s the…

HH: Not waterboard him, I’m sure.

MI: Let’s just waterboard him, and you know, see what happens.

HH: But he doesn’t want him Mirandized, because that indicates that we will be putting his criminal prosecution ahead of his interrogation value

HH: Now what do you make to Isikoff’s reaction there, Marc Thiessen?

MT: Of course we don’t have to waterboard this guy. We only waterboarded three people – Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi, Abu Zubaydah, and al Masri, who was the buy behind the Cole bombing. We don’t need to waterboard everybody. But to say that, you know, the answer to well, you just want to waterboard everybody, no, I just don’t want to Mirandize them. I want to be able to get, exploit the intelligence value that they have. That’s just an absurd reaction.

HH: It is. He went on to argue that John Yoo had argued that the president is king and can do anything he wants. Michael Isikoff is a very good journalist, and he is very influential, but I think he’s got MSM disease, which is to parrot back the left’s view of national security again and again. Am I wrong?

MT: No, you’re not. He’s a, what he presents is a caricature, because you know what? The truth is that John Yoo, and if you read his book, you know, the only way they can defeat John Yoo in a debate is by caricaturing his argument. And the same thing with my book. I present facts about what actually happened in the CIA interrogation, facts that were not known until, widely until this book came out. And the left wins this debate over interrogation by fudging the facts. There’s a basic rule in political discourse, I think. The left wins when they fudge the facts. The right wins when we clarify. And so they want to paint a caricature of me as I want to waterboard everybody, and John Yoo wants to, says the president can do everything, because they can’t, they can only fight the straw man. They can’t fight the real argument.

HH: Now much more serious than the media’s both misinformation, or in some instances, ignorance, comes the fact that we have had four terrorist assaults in the United States in the last fifteen months – the Fort Hood killing, the Arkansas attack, the Detroit bombing, and now the Times Square bombing. The last two didn’t claim any lives, the first two did. Do you believe that we have a fundamental problem in the domestic security of the United States under the Obama administration that wasn’t there under the Bush administration?

MT: I think we definitely do, and the reason is this. We are no longer capturing, detaining and questioning senior terrorist leaders to find out what their plans are. In my book, I interviewed Mike Hayden, the former director of the CIA. And he had a great analogy that explains why interrogation is important. He said that intelligence is like putting together a puzzle. And you’ve got thousands of pieces of the puzzle, and they’re all laid out on the table in front of you, and you’ve got to connect them together, connect the dots, essentially, connect the pieces, except you’re not allowed to look at the picture on the cover of the box. Now how many of us could put together a puzzle without looking at the picture on the cover of the box? That’s what our intelligence community’s being asked to do. When you capture a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or somebody, or a top, high value terrorist, what they give us is not more pieces of the puzzle, they tell you what the picture on the cover of the box looks like. They allow you to connect the dots. And so what we do not have today, which we had under the Bush administration, is the ability to get these terrorists to tell us what the picture on the cover of the box looks like. And the failure on Christmas Day, we had all the pieces. We had the father came in, into the embassy in Nigeria, and said his son has joined al Qaeda, he’s a radical. We had all sorts of different pieces of the puzzle, warnings and the like. But we couldn’t connect them, because we were not capturing and interrogating the leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who planned the attack, and who could have told us what the plans were.

HH: Well and completely put. Marc Thiessen, thanks for joining us. The book is Courting Disaster: How The CIA Kept America Safe, And How Barack Obama Is Inviting The Next Attack. You can read Marc’s work at AEI blog as well.

End of interview.

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