Posted by Wordsmith on 4 May, 2017 at 2:15 pm. 3 comments already!



The New York Times reports this morning that an American hero has passed away:

Col. Leo K. Thorsness, one of the most highly decorated American airmen of the Vietnam War and a belated recipient of the Medal of Honor for his heroism on a mission that took place 11 days before he was shot down and taken prisoner, died Tuesday in Jacksonville, Fla. Colonel Thorsness, who had been brutalized during his six years of captivity at the notorious North Vietnamese prison known as the Hanoi Hilton, where he was a cellmate of John McCain’s, was 85.

Here is what you won’t read in the Times obituary of Col. Thorsness: this courageous American who suffered excruciating torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese Army was also a proud supporter of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program.

When I was researching my book on the CIA interrogation program, Courting Disaster, I had the great privilege of interviewing Col. Thorsness, along with several of his fellow former prisoners of war (POW).  He, like all of them, rejected the idea that waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques practiced by the CIA even remotely constituted torture.

In his book, Surviving Hell, Thorsness described the torment he suffered following his capture:

I would say that my 18 days and nights of interrogations were unendurable if I hadn’t endured. For much of that time I lived in a knot of pain I can only compare to that produced by a dentist’s drill…. My back was broken and refrozen during these torture sessions. My knees were further damaged.  My body was wrenched apart. There was nothing particularly imaginative about the North Vietnamese techniques. They hadn’t improved much on the devices of the Spanish Inquisition. They bent things that didn’t bend; they separated things meant to stay together.

Ironically, Thorsness noted, the mainstream media tried to downplay the torture he suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese:

When we finally came home, some journalists, perhaps annoyed by the brief support for the war our stories of our captivity had generated, skeptically implied that when we said torture we actually meant intimidation, coercion, and degradation. But the reality of the torture we experienced was engraved on our bodies.

Now, he pointed out, they threw around the word with abandon to describe what the CIA did to al-Qaeda terrorists in its custody. But Thorsness was an expert on torture, and he said the CIA’s actions did not even come close.

To me, waterboarding is intensive interrogation. It is not torture. Torture involves extreme, brutal pain — breaking bones, passing out from pain, beatings so severe that blood spatters the walls … when you pop shoulders out of joints…. In my mind, there’s a difference, and in most POWs’ minds there’s a difference…. I would not hesitate a second to use ‘enhanced interrogation,’ including waterboarding, if it would save the lives of innocent people.

In a Memorial Day essay posted on the Power Line blog in 2009, he added:

To proclaim we will never use any form of enhanced interrogations causes our friends to think we are naïve…. Our naïveté does not impress radical terrorists like those who slit the throat of Daniel Pearl in 2002 simply because he was Jewish, and broadcast the sight and sound of his dying gurgling. Publicizing our enhanced interrogation techniques only emboldens those who will hurt us.

He further told me that his fellow POWs agreed: “In my mind, there’s a difference [between waterboarding and torture], and in most POWs’ minds there’s a difference.”


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