last Sunday's LA Times, Harvard Law professor Alan
argued that the U.S. courts should codify torture to
differentiate acceptable coercive interrogation techniques from
unacceptable ones. He began the essay this way:
Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft's recent
testimony that President Bush had
"made no direct order" authorizing any of the practices photographed at
Abu Ghraib prison was calculated to cloak the president with
deniability. But it raises the real question: What constitutes the kind
of "torture" that, according to Ashcroft, "this administration
opposes"? And what exactly are the information-gathering techniques
that the Bush administration does approve of? We don't know because it
refuses to be specific, opting instead for the wink-and-nod approach —
publicly condemning torture in a general sort of way while discreetly
demanding results by whatever means it takes.
Dershowitz goes on to cite the experience of the Israelis, who have
used torture particularly in "ticking bomb" situations where a detainee
has knowledge of hostage locations or other information that could be
used to save imperiled citizens. Ultimately, Israeli courts did define
permitted interrogation techniques, which turned out to be rather
stringent and prohibited "shaking, stress
positions, hooding, playing "powerfully loud music" and other physical
The nominal point of the essay is that Dershowitz thinks America should
follow Israel's lead in this arena. The deeper point, however, seems to
be the subtle redefinition of the abuses at Abu Ghraib as "torture."
Hence this sentence in his concluding paragraph:
Broad generalizations like "this
administration opposes torture" have not worked and will not work in
Clearly, we are supposed to accept that "torture" has occurred under
the American watch in Iraq. Elsewhere, our beloved media are doing
their best, through a policy of omission, to achieve the same result.
On May 21 of this year, Newsmax
The U.S. backed Arab-language news
network Al Hurra broadcast video on
Wednesday depicting grisly acts of torture on Iraqi citizens ordered by
Saddam Hussein. But so far at least, the shocking new video remains
embargoed by U.S. media outlets.
Post admitted on Friday that it was in possession of some of the
gruesome torture images - but did not publish them in a report on the
video buried on Page A21. Instead, Post editors decided to front-page
stale images of U.S. abuse of suspected terrorists held at Baghdad's
Abu Ghraib prison.
torture] video reached news outlets," the paper explained, "as senior
spokesmen for the Bush administration began to express frustration that
the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops had overshadowed
well-documented human rights horrors of the Hussein era."
I haven't seen these videos yet. Have you?
More recently, a media outlet calling itself Common Dreams NewsCenter, Breaking News
for the Progressive Community published an article
in which an el Sadr insurgent declared that he'd rather be tortured
by Saddam than humiliated by the Americans. Under the Hussein regime, he had been
...given electric shocks, beaten and hung
from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back.
"But that's better
than the humiliation of being stripped naked," he said. "Shoot me
here," he added, pointing between his eyes, "but don't do this to us."
The Common Dreams piece doesn't ever get more specific about the young
man's Saddam interrogations but includes this vivid description of his
time in American captivity:
Shweiri, who was
arrested by the Americans in October, said he was asked to take off his
clothes only once and for about 15 minutes. "I thought they wanted me
to change into the red prison uniform, so I took off my clothes, down
to my underwear. Then he asked me to take off my underwear. I started
arguing with him but in the end he made me take off my underwear," said
Shweiri, who was too embarrassed to go into too much detail.
He said he and six other prisoners - all
hooded - had to face the
wall and bend over a little as they put their hands on the wall.
"They made us stand in a way that I am
ashamed to describe. They
came to look at us as we stood there. They knew this would humiliate
us," he said, adding that he was not sodomized.
"They were trying to humiliate us, break
our pride. We are men. It's
OK if they beat me. Beatings don't hurt us, it's just a blow. But no
one would want their manhood to be shattered," he said. "They wanted us
to feel as though we were women, the way women feel and this is the
worst insult, to feel like a woman."
Shweiri's account could not be
Observe the lovely nod in the direction of objectivity at the end;
the account couldn't be independently verified. But also note that the
"progressive" audience of Common Dreams is expected to feel Shweiri's
pain and humiliation at "the worst insult, to feel like a woman."
The only way that this propagandistic equation of humiliation with
torture can work is for Americans to remain in the dark about what
torture really is. Are we really so coddled and naive in this country
that we can't see the absurdity of declarations like Shweiri's?
Pondering this question, I recalled -- and subsequently dug up -- an
essay I had read long ago in an Esquire
anthology of the most daring and controversial pieces published in that
magazine's first quarter century. The author was James Poling
in an internet listing of 20the century 'Civil Rights Writers') and the
date of original publication was November 1936. Poling's approach was
reminiscent of Swift's "Modest Proposal," facetious and shocking; he purported to be exposing
an American national deficiency. The article, titled "Brotherly
Love," opens thus:
The gentle art of torture is one of the
most venerable and least
recognized of mankind's accomplishments. Like sex, it has reared its
ugly head through all the pages of recorded history. The tortures of
the Spanish Inquisition, the Middle Ages, the French Revolution and
other notable eras are commonplaces accepted by everyone. But few
realize that torture is one of the essential, even if minor tools of
our present day boasted civilization.
Poling regards Americans in particular as being a bit backward in
the art of torture, and so he conducts a little seminar to bring us up
to speed, proceeding from the least to the most ingenious and
spectacular. Since he was writing in 1936, his knowledge of the Nazis
was fairly primitive, as was his assessment of their techniques:
Regrettably enough little artistry or
variety is displayed.
Solitary confinement and starvation, the ever present castor oil, and
beatings in various forms constitute the larger part of the program.
these beatings may lack the refinement we might logically expect to
find in a civilized nation the following quotations from the lips of
Wolfgang Langhof, who spent thirteen months in a concentration camp,
prove that the treatment is not ineffective:
"Their faces were
battered all over, their ears torn, their lips split, their eyes
bloodshot and discolored . . . . Their truncheons rained on me, blood
ran in streams from my body, nose and mouth. I was unable to move, my
neck and arms were swollen, all my front teeth were gone, my whole body
was purple, blue, black, green and red, and all swollen . . ."
That should give you the general idea.
What a difference between the word "beating" and a description of
the reality. I'm sure that most of us, like Shweiri, would rather
experience what Wolfgang Langhof did than remove our clothes before
Poling is equally contemptuous of the Italian fascisti, with one
exception regarding their application of beatings:
The Italians are responsible for only one
notable advance in the
technic of pounding a man to pieces. They have evolved Bastonatura in
stile, a highly specialized school of bludgeoning. The weapon is a
specially made cudgel, weighted in the end and rather flexible. Those
who wield it are trained in barrack where they first practice on
Blows for the bastinado are inflicted on the lower part
of the face. Care is taken not to fracture the skull, in order to avoid
death, and great artistry is displayed in shattering the jaws; thus
laying the victim up for months and in such a shape that he can't
conveniently speak harshly of his benevolent dictator.
It is at this point in his seminar that Poling begins getting
specific about Americans:
In turning to the land of the free I am
forced to admit,
unpatriotic though it may sound, that we in America have not taken
advantage of our opportunities. In the realm of torture we are a
backward nation, more notably for our vim and vigor than for our
He cites the grisly record of beatings, floggings, and
lynchings practiced by whites against "the American Negro" and also
acknowledges the contributions of prison authorities, gangsters,
strike-breakers, [and] chain-gang
supervisors," but he clearly assigns the leading role in contemporary
(1936, remember) American torture to the police.
Six policemen in Tampa were charged with
thte first degree murder
of a man they suspected of communistic activities; after flogging him
they tarred and feathered him and as a result he "did languish and did
die." The Supreme Court recently set aside the death sentences imposed
on three Mississippi Negroes because "it would be difficult to conceive
of methods more revolting than those taken to procure the confessions
of these petitioners." The men were hanged from trees and stripped and
lashed with belts, buckles attached, until their backs were laid bare
and until they confessed. The idealistic judges in Washington asserted
that "the rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the
We have all heard of the notorious "third-degree," but Poling is the
only writer I have found who describes what it really consisted of:
We have made one contribution to the
noble art of torture which
the future historian must inevitably note with care and admiration. I
give you, gentlemen, the Third Degree.
Would you like to get
kicked in the groin? Have you an overpowering desire to be questioned,
without having food, water or sleep, by relays of detectives for
ninety-two hours on end? Would you like to be blinded by being forced
to stare into a terrifically high powered light for hours on end? Have
you a desire to be put in a dentist's chair and held there while the
dentist grinds down a good molar with a rough burr? Or would you prefer
to have your Adam's apple pounded by a blackjack until blood spurted
from your mouth?
All the little pleasantries I've enumerated can
probably be had at your nearest police station, provided you are
suspected of a major crime and are reluctant to confess your guilt. If
the crime is major enough you may be provided with even more varied
"Taps" is a form of indoor sports particularly
popular with the boys in the back room of the police station. In
playing "Taps" the prisoner is first strapped to a chair. After he has
been made comfortable he is pounded on the side of the head with a
piece of rubber hose, or "goldfish." He must not be knocked unconscious
but must be struck hard enough to experience jolting pain. If the game
is to be played expertly the blows must be delivered with machine-like
Timing, as in tennis and other games, is essential
and the perfect stroke is one delivered at regular thirty second
intervals. The one drawback to the game is its lack of variety. The
prisoner in the chair is always "It." To compensate for this "Taps" has
a distinct advantage over most station house games; the rubber hose
causes no scar and the red welt it raises won't be visible on the
witness stand the next morning. The joke of this is that the prisoner's
head will be damned sensitive for weeks or even months.
a suspect in the abdomen, bouncing his head off a cement floor, the
dental burr and Adam's apple treatments, baseball bats, pool cues,
burning with cigarette ends and other divertissements all have their
loyal adherents and any policeman who advocates a specific form of
"exercise" can quote you many cases to prove its effectiveness.
Fortunately, most policemen are open-minded and quite willing to listen
to a fellow officer representing an opposing school of thought. This
leads to a widespread knowledge of the art of torture as practised
within the law and makes for versatility.
We'll be returning to the subject of American law enforcement practices
later on, but Poling is at this point in his piece just warming up. He
still regards his own countrymen as pikers:
Yes, everything considered, I think it
is safe to say that the cop
has been the most potent force in keeping the art of torture alive in
modern American life. I appreciate the work he is doing in carrying on
a long and honorable profession and I hope I won't sound hypercritical
when I complain of 'his lack of finesse. As one who takes great pride
in his country it pains me grievously to see other nations forge ahead
of us in this field. This should not be.
I have a suggestion
which, if followed, will remedy this distressing situation. I suggest
we select from each metropolitan police force its most sadistic member.
He shall then be sent to Russia to take a post-graduate course in
torture. On his return he will take over the Chair of Torture in the
local Police College. To make this plan as effective as possible
gangsters, Southern gentlemen, strikebreakers, prison wardens,
chain-gang supervisors, people with a race or color complex and all
other interested parties will be admitted to the course free of charge.
plan, I am sure, would bring new life, talent and artistry into
American torture and it would only be a question of time until we
assumed world leadership.
What was so great about the Russians? Poling gets very very specific:
It is easy to assign credit for the
meritorious performance. In the beginning there was Lenin, who said,
"Do you think we can remain in power without having recourse to the
most brutal methods?" There was a man who clearly understood how to
Lenin's attitude led, indirectly, to the
formation of "The Extraordinary Commission for Combating
Counter-Revolution, Sabotage, and the Dereliction of Duty," more
commonly known as the Cheka and unquestionably the most murderous and
bloodthirsty organization in the history of the modem world. With its
informers, secret police, torturers, executioners, and charnel-houses
located in every district of Russia the Cheka was a marvel of
efficiency, as any organization which can torture and execute 1,761,065
people in the course of eight years must be. The Cheka never missed a
bet. It had an executive known as the Director of Corpse Transportation
and never threw away a body before making sure that the gold teeth had
Such an organization must have a capable leader.
The outstanding success of the Cheka in its chosen field was undeniably
due to the genius of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the twentieth century
But Dzerzhinsky, no matter how willing, couldn't
carry out the work of the Cheka singlehanded. He was supported by a
huge organization, employing thousands of men. The Commissars of Death,
as the official torturers and executioners were known, were the
backbone of the Cheka. There were only a couple of hundred of these
desirable and much sought after posts and some of the incumbents
achieved their own especial brand of fame.
for example, with thousands of victims to his credit, was a punctual,
quiet man who went about his work as meticulously as a bank clerk. He
even kept a record of the number of bullets issued to him each day and
the number used. Before killing his victims he used to flog them
unmercifully, beat them' in the face with his revolver butt until they
were unrecognizable and then, when the fun was over, shoot them. At the
end of his day's work he would go quietly home to his mistress, a
former prostitute. When he was promoted to a well-paid job in the
government he left his whore behind for his successor.
one of the highest scoring of all the executioners, with 11,000 victims
to his credit. His scoring ability was abruptly cut short on the day he
went haywire and, pulling his gun, ordered some of his fellow
executioners to the wall.
Zayenko, a mousy young man from
Kharkov, disdained killing his victims with his own hands. He had a
knack for artistic flogging and would end his part of the performance
by skinning his victim's hands. The actual killing was left to his
assistant, Eduard, who made it a point of honor never to shoot before
telling the practically dead man a funny story.
honored by the presence of a gargantuan Negro by the name of Johnson
who had been one of the better Parisian pimps before he became
"Comrade"-conscious. Johnson had a way with a knife and, with a few
adroit strokes, could cut away the flesh and lay bare the sinews, which
he ripped out by hand — to the extreme discomfiture of his
victim. He was noted for the broad smile that played over his features
during the course of this operation and reckoned to be a man with a
devilish sense of humor.
The girls of Russia weren't ones to
shirk their duty and some of them, too, rose'to the front ranks. The
blonde Vera Grebenniukova was probably the most famous. This young lady
got her early training under Johnson but soon developed her own
technic, which consisted of literally shredding her victims. With a
feminine eye to the preservation of her clothes she frequently worked
in the nude; bloodstains being notably difficult to remove. Vera may
have been lacking in modesty, but not in energy. During one period of
six weeks she accounted for seven hundred people at the rate of about
fifteen a day.
Rosa Schwartz, of Kiev, also was a disciple of
nudism. She always visited her victim's cell in the raw, smoking a
cigarette and carrying a gun. After a chat and a smoke she would
extinguish the cigarette in her victim's eyes and then start shooting.
Essad-Bey, who has written the best account in English of the work of
the Cheka, encountered another young lady in Moscow who loved dearly to
go visiting the infirmaries, where the sick prisoners were, with a
stout whip in her hand.
But for really thorough workmanship the
Pole Achikine, of Simforopol, was the most noteworthy executioner of
them all. He had a romantic preference for women prisoners. After
stripping them he would first emulate the goat, and then, taking up a
sword, cut off their ears, hands and breasts. Having warmed up to his
work he would burn or pierce the eyes out and, in the end, cut off the
With such talented boys and girls in his employment it is
easy to understand why Dzerzhinsky had little trouble in making the
Cheka a household word in all Russia.
Nor were the operatives of the Cheka completely lacking in
finesse and subtlety. A good many prisoners of the Cheka came out of
prison with whole bodies. These fortunate ones had only to spend an
unlimited number of weeks in solitary confinement in extremely hot or
freezing cold dungeons. I shouldn't have said "solitary" confinement
since they could enjoy the company of the large rats who dwelt with
them. Others were shut up for extended periods of time in cells with
raving maniacs or sexual lunatics. Some were prevented from sleeping
for days on end and some fed nothing but salt herring while a water tap
flowed constantly outside their cell door. And a few were left to
philosophize for weeks, in brightly lighted cells, the walls, ceilings
and floors of which were constructed of distortion mirrors~ These were
the fortunate ones that came out of jail, as I said, with whole bodies.
Whether, after the loss of their minds, their bodies were of much use
to them during the remainder of their days in the insane asylums of
Russia is something I leave you to judge.
Some of you may have
felt that in assigning supremacy in torture to Russia I was overstating
the case. I trust that the following quotations, as recorded by Maitre
Aubert and Essad-Bey, will convince you that I was speaking the simple
"In the city of Taganrog, in southern Russia, fifty young
officers were bound hand and foot and flung alive into red hot blast
furnaces. In Blagoveshchensk, corpses of officers and soldiers were
found with gramophone needles under their nails, with their nails torn
from their fingers, and with shoulder straps nailed to their flesh. In
the Ussuri district Czech prisoners were found whose skulls had been
smashed in, their genitalia amputated, their eyes put out and their
tongues torn out.
"At Kharkov the butcher Saenko was celebrated
for his skill in skinning heads and hands. He plunged the hands of the
accused into boiling water, then tore off the skin to make human
gloves. His abattoir was known as the Glove Factory.
officers were taken on board the steamer Sinope, fastened to beams with
chains, put in front of the oven and slowly roasted. Others were cooked
in boilers, then plunged into the icy sea, and thrown again into the
oven. Still others were burnt alive, fastened to planks which were
slowly pushed into ovens bit by bit, a few inches at a time." If you
still refuse to recognize, with me, the supreme genius of the Russian
people I can only make one last, despairing gesture and quote to you,
from Nilostonski's Der BIutraush des Bolschewismus, this official
description of the condition of the abattoirs on the day of the
evacuation of Kiev.
"The whole of the concrete floor of the huge
garage was covered with blood which, owing to the heat, had already
coagulated; it was mixed with bits of brain, cranial bones, wisps of
hair and other human remains, the whole resulting in a horrible mess
several inches deep. Close by this gruesome scene, in the garden of the
same house, there lay a hundred and twenty-seven bodies. The heads of
all the corpses were battered in, some of the skulls being quite flat.
They had probably been killed by having their heads flattened out by
some sort of block. Others had no heads at all, but the latter had not
been cut off; they had been torn away. In a far corner of the garden we
discovered another common grave containing about eighty bodies. No one
can have any idea of the wounds and mutilations we found upon them.
Some had their bellies slit open, some had no limbs, some had been cut
to pieces, some had their eyes put out and many had no tongues. We
discovered a number of bodies which showed no signs of having met with
violent death. But when they were examined by the doctors, the trachea
and aesophagus of each victim was found to be full of earth. The
wretched creatures had evidently been buried alive and had swallowed
the earth as they tried to breathe. Among them were old men, young men,
women and children. One woman was bound by a rope to her daughter, a
child apparently of about eight years of age."
Torture. How do you feel about panties on your head now? Of course,
Poling was writing back in 1936, and his essay can tell us nothing
about how much Saddam Hussein and his minions knew of the "gentle art
of torture." We have to turn to other sources for that. Modern
squeamishness (assuming that's what it is) has deprived us of the vivid
imagery we have just encountered, but there are some terse lists of
Saddam's torture techniques. The following is a page posted at TheSmokingGun.com
you can the same gif file larger and also download a pdf file
containing the full report of which this is an excerpt.
When we review this list -- and also recall that one or both of
Saddam's sons conducted Cheka-like mass executions inside quonset
hut/charnel houses after the failed 1992 uprising -- it appears that
the Iraqis under Hussein did all the homework Poling commended
Americans to do, including extra credit for innovations like rape rooms
and murder by brush chipper. Can we begin to imagine the condition of
the 300,000 bodies buried in mass graves throughout Iraq? No? Can't
envision it? If we were to look hard, we might just find additional
evidence of the kind the American media have exploited to such great
effect in the Abu Ghraib scandal: photographs
example, we keep hearing about the beating of feet. Sound funny or odd
or somehow mild to you? How about this?
You can't believe the part about
injuring or gouging eyes? Behold:
The worst is to be made to feel like a
woman? How do you suppose this Iraqi woman feels?
These are the stories that CNN refused
to report during the Hussein regime for fear of being kicked out of the
country. These are the stories that the International
is overlooking in its sudden concern for the human rights
of Saddam Hussein. After all, if the IRC doesn't intervene
immediately, Saddam could be forced to put a pair of women's panties on
his head, and we all know how revolting that prospect is to civilized
Arabs. (For more about how civilized Islamic
Arabs are, see Osama Bin Laden's Terror
And so, finally, to the point of all this background discussion: Double
standards. The topic is awash with them. To call Abu Ghraib by the name
of torture is a falsehood that can only be justified by the notion that
it's somehow more egregious and intolerable because Americans have done
it. That's the subtext of the ludicrous claims by Shweiri that he'd
rather be a victim of Hussein than the Americans. He's simply playing
on the nonsensical self-flagellations of the western media. Put him
back in Abu Ghraib with a choice between an American noncom armed with
a woman's thong and a Baathist interrogator armed with an icepick and
see who he picks. (Just in passing, we'd also like to note the double standard of western "progressives" who throw a fit if a male in the workplace compliments a woman's appearance but have no qualms about cozying up to a terrorist who despises women across the board.)
Worse than the double standard of the western media and the Arab
insurgents, though, is the double standard of the American people who
insist on whining apologies every time they mention Abu Ghraib in any
context. I think the time for any apologies is done, and I'm happy to
The above description of the Third Degree is probably reasonably
accurate. If not, the Miranda decision handed down by the Warren Court
in the 1950s wouldn't have been nearly as controversial and it
wouldn''t have led to the extreme increases in violent crime we
experienced in this country during the 1960s and 1970s. Were Americans
barbarians in the pre-Miranda United States? No more than they are
today, and by some measures less so. (Remember the claims that people
used to leave their houses and cars unlocked? True.) What has changed
between then and now is the social contract, specifically what
tradeoffs seem acceptable between individual rights and the need for
civil order. America probably reached its zenith of safety from crime
in the 1950s, which made it appropriate to reconsider how much latitude
should be given to those responsible for maintaining public safety.
Over time, a consensus decided that more crime was an acceptable price
to pay for more restraint of authority. Yet that is a consensus that is
continually renegotiated in small increments all the time. When violent
crime spikes upward, the public demands more police protection, more
powerful police weapons, and less judicial toleration of purely
technical defenses in criminal prosecutions. The balance between rights
and the public safety is a moving target.
Now let us consider the twe broad themes that have dominated the public
debate -- and public displeasure -- about the war in Iraq over the last
few months. First, according to the pundits and pollsters, Americans
are withdrawing their support for the war because of the military's
failure to achieve adequate security
in occupied Iraq. They see too many American soldiers and
civilians getting killed in terrorist incidents. They fault the
government and the military for not correcting this situation. Second,
Americans are shocked and repelled by the abuses at Abu Ghraib and
what those abuses say about the leadership of our military and
Remember that the 1930s America Poling was describing wanted security
so much that it was willing to tolerate the Third Degree. Americans
today demand that Iraq be entirely safe, but they blanch at the thought
of anything even remotely akin to the police tactics which promoted
that security in this nation
couple generations ago. In other words, the constantly renegotiated
tradeoff between rights and the public safety that we depend on in the
United States is not permissible in a foreign war zone where the chief
victims of violence are the very people who are enforcing the law. We
condemn them both for getting killed and for getting rough with the
Baathist/terrorist/insurgents who are working the hardest to kill them.
But they're the military, we say. They're supposed to have restraint.
That's what we pay them for. They embarrass us when they go over the
line (wherever we're arbitrarily drawing the line these days).
I propose that the American military is showing enormous restraint, Abu
Ghraib included. Consider these elementary facts of arithmetic. There
are 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Since the end of formal hostilities,
more than 500 of them have been killed by terroristic acts: that is,
500 peacekeeping troops have been ambushed, car-bombed, and assassinated by
outlaws. Apply this rate of death by terror to a nation of 260 million
people. If we had experienced proportionally what our military has over
the past year, one million Americans would be dead.
Try to imagine the "restraint" of the American people if a million had
died in a calendar year at the hands of Arab fanatics. How many would
give it a second thought if the police interrogated terror suspects by
stripping and humiliating them? How would you feel? How far would you
be willing to go if you were responsible for interrogation? Yes, you.
All of which brings us to the greatest double standard of all. We want
to be safe from terrorism. Yet we pretend that we have zero tolerance
for torture. This is a lie. All of us must ask ourselves this question:
If we knew that a terror suspect had information about an imminent
nuclear attack in our nearest city, how far would we go to get
information that could save a quarter- or half-million souls, including
friends, relatives, and countless innocents? There is only one honest
answer, one moral answer, to that question. We would go as far as
necessary. However far that might be.
It's easy to be moral in the absence of immediate hard choices. It's
easy to condemn those who are responsible for protecting us when we do
not share their dangers, their stresses, and their friendships with the
victims slain by an unscrupulous enemy. It's easy for Dershowitz to
think that he can head off hard choices and murky real world decisions
with a pristine paper written by a judge. The truth is, he is
spectacularly wrong about his central premise: so far, the
generalization that the American government is opposed to torture has
worked extremely well. The real question is just how opposed to torture
be as the stakes
keep going up and up. But that's not a matter that will be decided by
courts. It will be decided in the hearts and minds of all of us. The
law will then follow.
Our troops are surrounded by killers. If they need to break an arm now
and then, I understand. And I'll bet that if the crybabies in the
mainstream media were kidnapped by Shweiri, they'd not only understand
a broken arm, they'd be praying for it.
Does anyone have a better picture in his head now of what torture is?
And what it isn't? Well, keep studying. Believe me, a test is coming. A
BIG test. We'd all better be ready when it does.
Monday, June 14, 2004
Just an Idea..
. After weeks of media masochism anent Abu Ghraib,
it was curiously healing to watch the many ceremonies of the Reagan
funeral. We got to see the military at its best, crisp, upright, and
dignified. We got to witness the American people at their best, filled
with compassion, admiration, and patriotism. We got to see Washington,
DC, at its best, graceful and grand and beautiful. Many of us drew
strength from the elegant rituals of last week, but there's a constituency
who were deprived of the catharsis such events should engender.
I refer, of course, to the significant percentage of Democrats who
loathed, despised, and hated Ronald Reagan. For them, there was only
bitterness in the proceedings. Is there anything we can do to give them
an equivalent experience? You think not? Well, I have an idea. Let's
kill Jed Bartlet.
The West Wing has pretty much run out of ways to slyly critique a
Republican President in a world where the news is writ large by leaders
and nations who can't be plausibly fictionalized. Toby and Josh and Leo
and CJ have gotten Bartlet reelected, his MS is worn out as a plot
device, and Zoey's big interracial fling also appears to have exhausted
itself. People have begun to stop watching. Who gives a damn about a
big senate fight over school vouchers when Bush and Kerry are climbing
into the ring for the knockdown drag out political brawl of the
century? So, as I said, let's kill Jed Bartlet.
A sudden brain aneurism would be good. It could happen right at
the end, before the black screen showing the names of the producers.
From there it would proceed to a riveting, high-impact miniseries in
which Abby dolefully plans and carries out the biggest state funeral
since... well, since Ronald Reagan's, I guess. They could haul out the
big caisson, and I suppose they could round up a handsome black pony
that wouldn't overpower Jed's little backward-facing boots. They could
do a whole show on just the procession to the capitol, with thousands
of extras lining the streets to weep for poor President Bartlet. And
the regulars could do their histrionic bit in the limos along the way
-- flashbacks, self-pity, liberal pontificating -- you know, the usual.
Josh could think back to when he was shot. Donna could think back to
when she was blown up. CJ could think back to when she was being
stalked by an assassin. Toby could think back to when he had hair and a
personality. (Perhaps not). Then they could all realize that it's
really the President who is dead, and what a relief, only not really.
They could do another whole hour with Jed lying in state in the Capitol
building. Foreign leaders from past shows could arrive and remember
Bartlet beside the casket. That drunken Brit who keeps trying to grab
Abby's breasts would be great, because Brits don't get that worked up
about death, only this time it's different. A little different anyway.
No chance of copping a feel with Abby this time. And aren't there some
fictional middle eastern types they've used before, who could show up
in their white robes and burnooses while the ordinary Americans are
filing past, weeping quietly? I can't remember any other world leaders
from the show because President Bartlet didn't actually have a foreign
policy, just a war room. But if there are any, they should be invited.
They're probably as crushed as anyone about the loss of such a great
president. After all the leaders have done their thing, what's-his-name
the intern could have a solemn moment there, demonstrating the
greatness of American democracy, because the president belongs to both
the great and the small (unless Abby says no).
The funeral itself would be a casting challenge, but there's a certain ex-president who's reportedly miffed at not being asked to speak at Reagan's funeral. I'll bet he could be induced (couldn't that black-haired bitch ex-girlfriend of Josh's return for a cameo?) to give the eulogy. If he could stay awake long enough.
Then the great trek to New Hampshire, which should probably be
accomplished by motorcade, so that more thousands of adoring people
could stand at the side of the road remembering how great it was to
have a president who quoted Latin in his speeches and could level any
devout Christian with batteries of obscure Bible verses. The regulars
could remember happier road trips past, like the time Toby and Sam
drove to Connecticut to bail the Hispanic supreme court nominee out of
jail, or the time Josh and Toby had to hitchhike home from New Hampshire
after the big campaign to-do at the Bartlet family farm. But now the
President is dead, and life is going to be hollow from here on in, with
only reruns and residuals to look forward to.
All of this, however, is merely prelude to the big send-off under the
Democratic New Hampshire sky. Every celebrity in Hollywood will be
there, all of them prostrate with grief over the death of a President
who didn't starve the poor and conspire to kill the sufferers of AIDS.
Think of the resonance and the ratings of a final episode featuring
Streisand, Spielberg, Sarandon, Stone, Penn, Madonna, all of them
eloquent and restrained in their sorrow but overwhelmingly sensitive
and well dressed. And the sun sets over the apple orchard as U2
plays God Bless America and Abby and the kids tear themselves away from
the coffin for the last time to sign book deals, while George Clooney
folds up the flag with those impeccable white gloves and presents it to
the first lady with the kind of salute you only see in the U.S.
military or in a Hollywood blockbuster.
Properly done, the thing could be stretched out to weeks of really pure
Democrat-style suffering. Wouldn't that be great? You bet it would.
Requiescat in pace
Friday, June 11, 2004
No Politics Today.
The Piper to the Laird of Grant, by
Richard Waitt. He's playing Amazing Grace, of course.
. At the
final Reagan funeral event today, there will be a piper. Death and
pipers seem to go together. The Scots always used to bring them along
in their various wars, because nothing made them feel more like killing
than the piercing wail of wind passing through a sheep bladder. This
tradition endured all the way through to D-Day, when pipers played on
Sword Beach seemingly unmindful what a mesmerizing target they made.
Sanity and bagpipes do not
seem to go well together. You can confirm this to yourself by watching
the greatest bagpipe movie ever made, Tunes of Glory
, which refers to
the 'music' played by you-know-what. And it's only when Alec Guinness
starts picking the tunes for the big funeral at the end of the movie
that we know he has gone completely crazy. It's scary because we can
hear the pipes playing in his head, and we know he isn't ever coming
back to the here and now.
Why are we talking about bagpipes? Because there are many wondrous
in life that we stop seeing, blinded by our habitual belief in the
commonplace. Every once in a while it's good to yank something we take
for granted out of context and observe just how amazing it is. Bagpipes
a wondrous thing, archaic,
barbaric, irrational, and hideously
beautiful. There is no other musical instrument that is bound up with
so much pure nuttiness. You can play a violin in white tie and tails or
in a cowboy hat and buckskin jacket. To play the bagpipes you have to
wear a plaid skirt, no underwear, and an unspeakable hat. If you search
the internet, you will find more such nuttiness: a page devoted to bagpipe jokes
page devoted to bagpipe
, and even a very odd page, in French, of bagpipe animations
Steep yourself in this weird world for a bit, and maybe when the pipes
play in the final Reagan service tonight, you will hear Amazing Grace
in a new way and pay
the piper in wages of wonder.