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On Digging a Hole and Crawling In It


American troops found a guy who looked a lot like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn hiding in a spider hole in Iraq.

The word “grotesque” means “out of a cave.”

“Good riddance,” said an oddly prescient G. W. Bush, employing the same phrase millions will no doubt utter the day he leaves office. If he returns to his ranch in Texas sooner rather than later, voters all over the country will run through the streets wearing T-shirts emblazoned with G.W.’s likeness over the words “We got him!”

Saddam may have looked like a displaced Russian novelist on Thorazine, and why not? We are told he spent his last days in power putting the finishing touches on a new novel about himself leading an underground resistance movement to victory against an occupying force.

Forget Solzhenitsyn, Saddam is straight out of Nabokov, who knew more about the psychology of the self-deluding fool than anyone (with the possible exception of Henry James). Go and rent Fassbinder’s 1979 film of Nabokov’s “Despair” and let Dirk Bogarde explain the likes of Saddam to you without of course ever mentioning him.

No one will ever mistake G. W. for a novelist, nor is he much of an actor. Indeed, no president has had less to say and more trouble saying it. He has dared come forth from his own hiding place to confront the press only four times this year. Bush, who overwhelmed a crumbling, virtually defenseless opponent only to begin behaving as though he had just won the War of the Worlds, was wearing no disguise when last seen, not even a borrowed flight suit. He looked exactly like himself as he smirked his way through a press conference and a victory lap with Diane Sawyer.

While G. W. witlessly gloated (“when the heat got on, you dug yourself a hole, and you crawled in it”), others were scowling on his behalf. William Bennett, the chain-smoking former drug czar and easily the most dishonest-looking man in America, turned up on cable calling outright for Bush to torture Saddam, put sharp sticks under his fingernails, and so forth, until he comes up with weapons of mass destruction. (If they really wanted to torture Saddam they would force him to read The Book of Virtues.)

So what if Saddam is getting no better than what he had coming to him. I’m more worried about what we’ll all get, down the road, as a result of the administration’s actions.

Whether or not he is a prisoner of war, Saddam is, or was, after all, a Head of State.

Is it inappropriate to ask how we would want an American president to be treated if he or she were ever to fall into enemy hands and be accused of crimes against humanity?

(I agree, it is unthinkable. Still, let us think it.)

Would not Americans demand that even the worst commander-in-chief be treated with respect, and not a hair on that old gray head harmed?

Would we not also feel that however they were treating our president, they were treating our country?

Twenty years ago Donald Rumsfeld was photographed grinning and hugging his friend Saddam Hussein. Now Rumsfeld’s army is holding our former employee incommunicado at an undisclosed location, interrogating him without witnesses. Assuming that the arrangement is not, contrary to appearances, designed more to keep him from telling what he knows than to encourage him to unload, can information produced under those circumstances have a shred of credibility?

One imagines Saddam sitting there, even now, dreaming of Mars bars and salami and outlining his next ghastly novel in his head, no longer able to distinguish his life from his dissociated legend.

Meanwhile people with close ties to the administration go on television and call for the prisoner to be tortured. No one in authority is telling these people to shut up. Why should they? Their leader has already expressed his preference for the “ultimate” punishment.

It’s pretty hard to get worked up about humane treatment for Saddam Hussein. I’m not too worried about it myself. Frankly, I don’t care what happens to him.

However, here’s the thing. If the worst have no rights, neither do the best.

By his own testimony, G. W. Bush’s favorite philosopher is Jesus, who said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Buddha said that, too. So did Dr. John the Night Tripper (“what goes around comes around”).

“You dug yourself a hole, and you crawled in it.” Words that Bush used to describe Saddam’s attempt to hide from capture. Words that sadly may also be used one day to describe Bush’s adventure in Iraq.

* * *

(Apologies to William Faulkner, who said of Dreiser, “No writer ever had more to say, and more trouble saying it.” And thanks to “outfidel,” who first suggested Saddam’s resemblance to Solzhenitsyn in a newsgroup posting.)

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, just released a scorching new CD, Way Down Here.

He can be reached at:

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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