Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
June 17, 2004 - June 10, 2004

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Panties on the Head! The Horror!

HUMAN RIGHTS. We knew it would happen. Those evil American sadists couldn't resist humiliating Saddam with their favorite torture device. Now we'll probably have to let him go. Amnesty International is already plenty steamed.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Leading human rights organization Amnesty International has branded as humiliating the publication of a new photo of Saddam Hussein.

An Iraqi newspaper on Thursday published the picture of the deposed Iraqi president in captivity, and Baghdad residents were hurrying to buy copies, said CNN correspondent Satinder Bindra.

The photo is the first picture of Saddam to be released since his capture...when the U.S.-led coalition showed images and video at a news conference of him being examined.

Those pictures were defended by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said it was clearly important that people knew Saddam was alive and really had been caught.

Well, if Rumsfeld's not worried about the panties, maybe it'll all blow over. Sure.

Oh No! More Panties on the Head!

SCANDAL. Decompressing after Torture Talk (June 15 entry), we discovered this picture of Bill Clinton being tortured by a young lady in the White House. The source of this evidence is Shuteye Town 1999, which is just as nastily relevant now as it was when first published. Containing more than 3000 graphics, sound files, and 350,000 words of text, Shuteye Town is a hilarious place through which you can wander for weeks or months. Fortunately, it's still available from our friends at You can find out more here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004



LEADERSHIP. I did see her at the funeral and was surprised that she didn't spit on the floor, roll her eyes, or turn her back to the casket. Now I know why, courtesy of ChronWatch:

The front and center presence on Wednesday night of Rep. Maxine Waters at the congressional state funeral of President Ronald Reagan irked a number of Republicans and even some conservative Democrats. But given that the California delegation was put forward for protocol reasons, it was unavoidable.

According to a House Democratic leadership aide, Waters, whose utter contempt for Reagan is legendary, was asked to contain herself before, during, and after the solemn events in the rotunda. "The fact that we had to remind some members about their behavior given the national TV audience is embarrassing enough," says the leadership staffer. "All we needed were Waters and [Pete] Stark acting up or making some kind of scene or mugging for the camera."

It's good to know that some Democrats are still capable of being embarrassed.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Talking Torture

Alan Dershowitz

FORGERS.14.14-15. In last Sunday's LA Times, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz 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 pressures.

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 the future.

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 reported:

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.

The Washington 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.

"The [Hussein 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 independently verified.

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 (referenced here 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.

While 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 prison guards.

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 dummies.

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 finesse.

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 witness stand."

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 entertainment.

"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 regularity.

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.

Kicking 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.

My 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 Soviet's exceptionally 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 retain office.

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 been extracted.

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 Torquemada.

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.

Peasant Pankratov, 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.

Maga was 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.

Odessa was 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 living 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 head.

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 truth:

"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.

"At Odessa 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 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. For 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 Red Cross 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 Manual.)

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 explain why.

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 government.

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 a 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 we should 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...

POOR DEMOCRATS. 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. You see?

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.

PSONG.8.5. 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 things 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 are 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, a page devoted to bagpipe art, 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.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


New Kerry Strategy Beating up Bush

Taking a battering in the polls

CAMPAIGN MASTERY. It would seem that things have been going George Bush's way of late. The economy is now inarguably in a state of rapid growth, including the job market. The announcement of a prime minister, president, and ministers of Iraq is beginning to make it look as if the occupation really is in a state of transition to self-rule. And the recent death of Ronald Reagan has served to remind Americans that there's been more than one cowboy president who chopped wood on his ranch and stood up to a firestorm of domestic criticism about his bold and highly aggressive foreign policy. Yet the latest published results of polling appear to show Kerry opening up a lead just as all these developments are breaking Bush's way. What gives? The answer is easy. The smartest thing Kerry has done in months was proclaim the suspension of his campaign efforts during the Reagan funeral drama. We haven't seen or heard from him in days. Voila. He starts shooting up in the voters' estimation.

Anything we can do about it? Maybe not much in the macro sense. We don't have the clout to drag him back into the public eye where he would no doubt resume damaging his own presidential prospects. For the sake of our own morale, we should remember that this will happen. Before we know it, he'll be out there again, droning his absolute eternal support for all sides of every issue. Until then, we can improve his visibility to ourselves at least. That's why we're providing access to a fun little game that allows you to box with Kerry on the White House lawn. It's even possible to knock him out. We did. Just click on this link, (wait for the game to load -- it will) read the instructions, and when the game starts, wait for the bell to ring (!!!) before throwing any punches. Then have at it. It's easy, it's all in good fun, and you just might feel better...

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