Is It Torture Yet?

The Republican senators were already content in confinement. And the Democrats shuffled grumbling into their cage and handed Alberto Gonzales the key even before the judiciary committee began his confirmation hearings. No, their remarks had signaled, they would not resolutely try to block his rise to attorney general.

They would, at most, try to prevent a subsequent vault to the supreme court by tarnishing him with the “torture” memos he has drafted or shepherded as the president’s counsel-if they could even get copies, rather than relying on leaks, rumors, and news reports. With or without official versions to brandish at the hearings and on the floor of the senate, the White House would continue to claim that such documents amount merely to legal theorizing; it is not the policy of the United States to torture prisoners in the war on terror.

True. If all involved gingerly avoid defining torture, how could it ever be said to occur? One way of accomplishing this is to define it, then redefine it, and redefine it again-as the memos have done-until a dizzying fog surrounds it.

Another way is to shrink from naming it. Media accounts abound of grisly and appalling deeds which, if done by foreigners, would swiftly be termed torture. Instead, they are labeled abuse or mistreatment. The T word rarely appears. And the media thus become partners in the administration’s denials.

Even a Red Cross report on the harrowing of inmates at Abu Ghraib turned anemic and wobbly. It dared only to describe this behavior as “tantamount to torture.” And as the hearings opened senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the judiciary committee, repeated this convenient phrase to evade saying plainly that Americans have tortured their prisoners.

Nor did Gonzales’ miraculous hearing-room conversion delete torture from the penal repertoire. Despite the stark and plain meaning of his memos, his formal statement to the committee pledged fealty to the law and treaties, which prohibit torture. This is a hollow promise. The memos verify that, with a nod and a wink from W, he’s willing to stretch and wrench that word like a heretic on an Inquisition rack. And in response to some senators’ questions he twirled a verbal tiptoe dance that deftly left W in supposed possession of supreme constitutional authority to do almost any damn thing he pleases.

So the hearings will perform only the ritual of blessing Gonzales for confirmation by the full senate-unless they are resumed for the useful purpose of forging a clear definition of torture. Then the underlings abroad would at last have a fair notion of permitted or prohibited behavior. This will allow them to dodge what’s happening now: court martial for doing what they rightly gathered is desired of them, while their superiors piously disavow ever intending such things.

To achieve this beneficial result the committee should conduct an inquiry akin to the medieval testing of witches to discover by rigorous methods who really were ones and who were not. Subpoena as witnesses several of the chief architects of the war on terror and its descent into torture. Subject them to a crescendo of the techniques that have been used on prisoners. And invite these human lab rats to announce when the sensations they are experiencing have ceased being abuse or mistreatment and have become torture.


Room 101

Enact these scientific inquiries in a large cubicle built in the space usually housing witness tables on the floor of the hearing room directly in front of the tiered seating for committee members. Construct its walls of one-way glass so that all in the room can see everything, but the witnesses can see nothing outside the box. They will know only that a crowd is watching. Cameras and mikes will monitor all proceedings, any part of which could be broadcast everywhere. So the witnesses will be aware that their humiliation, pain, cowering, and cringing might be observed by anyone.

This feature is essential. The torturers have confirmed this by photographing and videoing their activities, then telling the prisoners that unless they become more cooperative these pictures will be shown to their families and friends. That threat, too, is torture. The horrors inflicted in 1984’s torture chamber-Ministry of Love, Room 101-were mental more than physical and were more effective for that reason. So this Orwellian name should be affixed to the door of the box. But informally it would probably be called the Tortugon.

The hearing room must be one large enough for some public attendance and also, besides the presiding judiciary committee, for most of the members of congress. They will be chosen in tribute to their supine silence. The only exemptions will be for members who can prove by documentary evidence that they have openly and vigorously opposed the torture. Clucking and tut-tutting in cloakrooms and at cocktail parties will not suffice.

But redemption beckons for the congressional offenders. To symbolize their torpor they will be trussed in sensory deprivation outfits like the ones on captives in transit to Guantanamo: orange jumpsuits, blackout goggles, sound-proof earmuffs, mouths taped, hands cuffed, ankles chained to their chairs arrayed around the edges of the room, with public seating at the center. This see-hear-speak-no-evil orange arc will assess the proceedings as best they can in these circumstances. At any point when any of them detect torture occurring in the Tortugon, this recognition will secure their release. But their outfits would prevent them from either detecting that or declaring it. Therefore, a group of their major campaign donors will be hovering in the hallways at all times, ready to tell the committee what the mummified members of congress think.

A few skeptics might concede that all these arrangements are apt but hesitate over the selection of techniques to be applied to the witnesses. Much has been alleged but little conclusively proved yet about the deeds done to the inmates, they could say. It would be unfair to subject the witnesses to assumed torments that haven’t actually occurred.

This objection is easily dismissed. First: Like millions of others, Brent Mickum, lawyer for a prisoner in Guantanamo, says that initially he “wondered whether this could all be true.” But “now there’s no question these guys have been torturedevery allegation that I’ve heard has now come to pass and been confirmed by the government’s own papers.” Second: There’s scarcely any limit to what some people will do, if authorities erase or blur the boundaries of acceptable behavior. The authorities in Washington did just that, and some of the consequences have become apparent. Many other consequences have not yet-and may never. But whatever might be done in the Tortugon, it is unlikely to exceed what has already happened somewhere in the war on terror’s gulag.


The Witnesses

Guards at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere prepared captives for interrogation by humiliating and disorienting treatment intended to weaken their resolve to resist. This process will begin at the hearings by handcuffing each witness, then hooding them with sacks smeared with urine, feces, or other stinks. Some will remain cuffed and be kept blinded and nauseated by the hoods throughout the proceedings. Guards will shove them into the hearing room and prod, drag, and kick them along the seating aisles to the door of the Tortugon.

There they become the toys of an assortment of inquisitors from various American military and spy agencies, contractors from murky security companies, and veteran specialists in information extraction from Israel and Chile, among other places.

These agents have been thoroughly briefed about the known techniques to replicate here. Plus, they are given some imaginative latitude to account for ones not yet exposed. Since dozens of prisoners have died at their captors’ hands, the inquisitors understand that they may, with difficult subjects, proceed to that point.

A sonorous voice flows from speakers around the room naming each witness and describing the activities that made them worthy of offering testimony about the definition of torture. Then they are yanked into the Tortugon, the door slams shut, and the inquiry begins.

David Addington, Prof. John Yoo, Judge Jay Bybee ­ Parsing Pettifoggers of Pain

These three lawyers wrote or joined with Gonzales in creating the memos with the trickle-down torture effects. Addington is vice president Cheney’s counsel. Yoo and Bybee both labored at the justice department. One received a professorship at the University of California law school in recognition of his work, the other the robes of a federal judge. This Gang of Three are the chief source of the legal arguments pronouncing the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of enemy prisoners “obsolete.” They argued that “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment is not torture. Transient mental anguish does not count. Nor does mere bodily pain. True torture arrives only at the level of pain “of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure.” And even then the damage must be “specifically intended” or no torture has occurred. At a White House meeting with Gonzales the pain quotient of various techniques was debated. Among other measures: slapping “just to shock someone with the physical impact,” “waterboarding,” and mock burial alive.

Inquisitors strip the trio naked, rip off their hoods and slap them across the facewith hard, percussive cracksagainagainblood and bits of chipped teeth seep from mouths.

“Is this torture yet?” the agents ask.

They strap the three to boards that pivot head-down into a trough of swill and excrementkeep them there until they are gagging and wild with panic of drowning lever them briefly up to airdown again

Torture yet?

Hoist them outdump them into a binstart shoveling dirt on themdeeply cover the legs firstthen torsothen

Torture yet?

In the absence of an affirmative response by the witnesses to these interrogatories the tribunal may infer a negative.

They are unearthed and hauled to a side of the Tortugon reserved for further “softening up” of witnesses. The agents bind them into painfully contorted “stress positions” and leave them there without food or water, perhaps for days awaiting recall for further testimony as the hearings progress.

“Think about this while you wait,” says an inquisitor. “If we bring you back for more testing, no matter what we do it won’t be torture. Unless, as you wrote, any damage done is ‘specifically intended.’ But we intend you no damage-up to and including death. Our only intent is gathering information.”

Torture yet?


Donald Rumsfeld ­ Secretary of Offense

The voice recounts Rumsfeld’s review and approval of various lists describing “aggressive” techniques that can be used on prisoners.

He enters, stumbling, as guards hustle him down an aisle and into the Tortugon. The hood is snatched off his slumping head and his glasses fall to the floor, shattering.

An interrogator gives him a document. Rumsfeld squints. “Can’t read it,” he says. “You broke my glasses!” The paper rattles in his cuffed hands.

“Let me help you, sir. It shows twenty-four methods. Signed by you. Includes ways to make people feel humiliated and vulnerable, like ‘removal of clothing.’ And ways to terrify them, like ‘inducing stress by use of detainee’s fears (e.g. dogs).’ Bring in the MWDs! Military working dogs, sir.” They enter snarling at the ends of taut chains. “The dogs you OKed led to a little game among the handlers. See who can get the perps to piss and shit on themselves the fastest.”

The dogs lunge, snapping. Rumsfeld wails and topples backward to the floor. A female agent pulls his soiled pants off and presses them to his face. “Look what you’ve done!” she scolds. “Have you forgotten your potty training? You’re a very bad boy, Donnie. Is this torture yet?”

“I signed a new list,” he pleads. “No dogs on it. Nearly two years ago.”

“Was that just CYA for your files? Want to see an FBI email saying the dogs were in use at Guantanamo just a few months ago?”

“I’m an old man,” he says, “trying to gather my thoughts.”

“You went to war with the list you had, not the list you wished you had,” she says. “But you eventually gave yourself the list you wished for. Didn’t you, Donnie. The Gang of Three handed you a legal cover, and you crawled under it”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand,” he says.

She grabs his genitals, twists, and says, “Is this torture yet?” The dogs lunge again. Fangs slash into his thighs and abdomen.

He shrieks and faints. Guards drag him out by the feet.


Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith ­ Deputy Offenses

Cheerleaders for an attack on Iraq long before 9/11, they seized it as a lever to pry the country into war from their positions close to Rumsfeld inside the Pentagon. They also deployed their academic training to help turn the legalistic fudges pioneered by the Gang of Three into a defense department memo for Rumsfeld to sign.

It abandoned bounds: The president may approve any interrogation technique for the sake of national security. Neither treaties nor U.S. laws against torture can diminish the commander in chief’s supreme authority to do whatever the country’s safety requires. Therefore subordinates, acting on orders from superiors, may do anything-except what “goes so far as to be patently unlawful.” But what could be unlawful if presidential authority trumps all law? The list of permissible methods becomes virtually infinite.

In accord with such logic guards have prepared this pair of witnesses for their testimony by saturating them with a welter of drugs thrust into them orally and anally. They arrive at the Tortugon dazed and staggering.

“Explain your exact roles in the creation of this memo and similar ones,” an inquisitor commands. Their eyes are dull, speech slurred. Fists smash into their faces. They sprawl on the floor bleeding and unconscious. “You refuse to respond? Not even the Eichmann defense? ‘I vass only followink orders.'”

Injections revive them. Feith is chained to a chair in the softening up zone. A bucket of ice water is dumped on him, and an air conditioner blasts him with frigid wind. This alternates with a heater set on high. Wolfowitz is locked in a steel box, which a guard pounds incessantly with a sledgehammer.

“Be sure to tell us when you feel anything that could qualify as torture,” the

inquisitor says cheerfully.


Richard Perle ­ Eminence Grise

Like Wolfowitz and Feith he devoted years to fabricating arguments for attacking Iraq and stoking fears about vile Saddam. Rotating with oily ease through government posts in the Pentagon and elsewhere, then think tanks, then businesses and boards, then back, he became an inspiration for all who seek to suck wealth from the misfortune of others in war. And like many eager to assail evils abroad, he turned abnormally inert and reticent when policies he helped craft soon delved into practices resembling those very evils.

Guards boot him into the Tortugon, peel his clothes off, and adorn him with feminine underwear. They attach electrodes from a large battery to his fingers, toes, and penis. In preparation for his testimony he was stupefied with drugs slipped into a truffle and escargot souffle, so he offers only feeble resistance. They wrap him in an Islamic flag with a crescent moon and a Koranic inscription. It is draped to mimic the hooded cloak on the wired figure in crucifixion pose from the Abu Ghraib photo album. Then they close the switch on the battery circuit. Spasms wrack Perle and he howlsopen closespasmshowlsopen They lift him onto a dolly and wheel him, still cruciform, into the softening up section. The switch operator accompanies him. Wisps of smoke arise from the skin around the electrodes.

“Let us know if you sense anything like torture, Perley Girl,” an interrogator calls out. “If not, we have many other procedures we still need to test.”


David & Meyrav Wurmser ­ Neocon Ideology Tag Team Wrestlers

Like Perle, David Wurmser has worked the revolving DC door. Lately he has been vice president Cheney’s chief advisor on the Middle East, and for years before that he beat on war drums in various posts. His wife Meyrav has done the same, mostly in think tank and academic settings. They got the war they desired-and with it came its consequences.

While he was in custody waiting to testify, a special forces squad broke down the door of his family house by night and kidnapped his wife. Now in the Tortugon, he hears through a speaker sounds from a mike where she is captive.

Coarse male voicesspeaking Arabicher voice pleading”no, no, please no”sound of ripping clothes”No!!! David, stop them! They want you to do something. I don’t know what exactly. Or they’ll. No, don’t!!!”screams”Help me, David. Help me! I’m in a room just down the hall from you”screams

He hurtles himself at the glass wall, hoping to smash through. But he just bounces off and lands in a stunned heap. An interrogator bends over him and asks, “Torture yet?”


Stephen Cambone ­ Apprentice Capo

Known as Rumsfeld’s henchman and enforcer, this Pentagon under secretary supervised the bureaucracies trying to wring information out of captives. His appearances before congressional committees sheepishly inquiring about the initial reports of prisons run amuck verified his reputation. He stonewalled the questioners with defiance and deception, and they dwindled away.

His appearance now portrays the same qualities. He brushes off the guards escorting him, tugs off his hood despite handcuffs, and strides down the aisle and into the Tortugon unbowed.

The inquisitors, noticing assurance and resistance, immediately converge on him to assert their primacy. They beat him with fists and sticks, gouge his eyes, spray him with mace, choke him, throw him to the floor, stomp on his hands and feet, shatter his knees, break an arm.

“Is this torture?” they demand. “Is it?”

Though broken and bleeding, he remains silent and they haul him aside for further treatment.


Major General Geoffrey Miller ­ The Very Model of a Modern Major General

Commander of the Guantanamo prison, he advanced to Iraq and his methods migrated with him. To prepare him for testimony he was laced into a straitjacket and forced to stand stork-like on one leg for a whole night and far into the day without food, water, sleep, or access to a latrine. So upon arrival in the Tortugon his military bearing is somewhat bent and his uniform reeks. Guards tear off his hood, then his medals, then his clothes.

“Thirsty, general?” an interrogator asks. “Hungry?” In a corner sits a toilet, recently used and unflushed. They prod him there and thrust his face into the bowl with a splash. “When you’re finished chewing we have some questions.”

They yank him up and show him their thick briefing book. “To the best of our knowledge,” they explain, “everything we’ve done during these hearings, plus more to come, duplicates what those under your command have done. Is any of it torture?”

“If it was authorized,” the spluttering general struggles to say, “it was not torture.”

“This item looks familiar. Much like that affair in a New York City police station several years back. Remember? Led to lawsuits, trials, felony convictions of cops.”

“Rightly so,” he says. “That was a stateside civilian matter. But we have custody of terrorists. We are protecting civilization from barbarians and evil doers.”

“Don’t you mean suspects? Most of them have never been charged or tried.”

“Well, I.”

“Did you see the Red Cross report indicating that a large majority of your inmates were grabbed more of less at random in roundups and are not specifically suspected of anything?”

“My recollection of that is a little hazymaybe”

A guard who has been sweeping up messes left by earlier questioning walks over and rams the broom handle up the general’s ass. Miller falls to the floor in convulsions.

The inquisitor pulls out a broad-tipped marker and scrawls on the bare rump: Torture Yet? A squad hoists the general and carries him out face down through the hearing room crowd. The broom sways above him like the flag atop Iwo Jima.


George W. Bush ­ Seeming President

The torture testers preferred that W appear in his Mission Accomplished aircraft carrier flight suit, an emblem of his commander-in-chief responsibility for all deeds done by the ranks below. Gonzales, still acting as presidential counsel, rejected this outfit as prejudicial to the judiciary committee’s deliberations. He proposed a toga instead. The inquisitors, unsure whether this was serious or satirical, refused. Gonzales offered a compromise: have the vice president take W’s place, as he had done with the 9/11 investigations. Since this accorded with the general character of the administration, they accepted.


Dick Cheney ­ Nanny-in-Chief

The inquisitors snatch his hood off and reveal his undaunted grimace of a grin. This gives them pause but they quickly recover and press ahead.

“Isn’t it true, sir, that in your well-known role as the president’s minder you oversaw all the varied agency efforts intersecting inside the White House to produce the torture memos?”

Silent sneer.

“Isn’t it also true that you took the lead in creating secret presidential decrees authorizing certain covert operatives to do almost anything they wished with prisoners, even unto death?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Thank you for reminding me, sir. Our briefing book contains nothing about such an improbable act, but it does have ones done in a similar spirit.”

Agents peel off Cheney’s clothes, fling him to the floor, and pin him there. One mounts him and starts humping. He squeals like frightened swine.

When it’s done they pull him up, clamp jumper cables on his hands and feet, and switch on a portable generator. The current sparks muscle contractions that twist him into spastic, flailing gyrations.

“I don’t know about the rest of you,” an interrogator says to his colleagues, “but having to watch this tortures me. White men just cannot dance.”

Cheney funky chickens across the Tortugon, his lopsided smile stretched into a warped gash by the current. He clutches at his chest and collapses. The guards make no attempt to resuscitate him. They simply load him on a gurney and roll him away, perhaps in a coma, perhaps dead.


Ann Coulter ­ Anorexic Albino Vampire

Some of the media’s valiant sofa soldiers are content to spread bile and ire that prime the consumers to accept war, torture, and whatever other measures the authorities may aim at the latest designated enemy. But Coulter is more direct and commanding. She issues WASP fatwas with a coquettish flounce of her platinum mane.

Guards deliver her to the interrogators and they remind her about some of these. On the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and his ilk: “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too.” On uppity Muslims: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

“Such opinions are widely circulated through the many outlets available to you,” an inquisitor says. “Do you think they incite attitudes that make torture acceptable, even attractive?”

“The truth hurts,” she barks, “and it must be told.”

They tug off her hood and are awed at the cascade of hair that shimmers down. She observes this and is pleased. They decide she would be an ideal subject for testing when sexual misconduct and abuse lapse into torture.

The briefing book has a large selection of examples. They choose several and start to experiment on her. But they soon stop because it becomes obvious that she’s actually enjoying this.

Instead they tie her to a post, jab lit cigarettes into her ears, pour lighter fluid over her hands and ignite it.

“Torture yet?” they ask as her ears blister and her hands sizzle.

She launches into an ecstatic rant on the martyrdom of Joan of Arc.


Rush Limbaugh ­ Prankster

He enters the Tortugon emitting bluster and bravado. “It’s such an honor to meet you,” an inquisitor says. “I’ve been a fan of yours since childhood.”

Emboldened by this reception Rush confides, “They kept me kneeling on rough cement for a couple days before I came in here. Knees are killing me. You have anything that could, you know, take the edge off the pain for a friend.”

The fan brings a medicine tray. Rush glances furtively around, sees only himself reflected in the one-way glass, and smiles. He snatches and swallows a fistful of pills.

“You said on your radio show that the things done at Abu Ghraib were just fraternity pranks,” the fan reminds him.

“Sure did,” Rush confirms, “and I’m certified as 98.7% accurate in everything I say.”

“So you’ll help us verify that these were not torture?”

“Sure will,” says Rush, feeling no pain.

An agent approaches carrying a chemical flashlight of the type used to sodomize inmates at Abu Ghraib. He comes from a wasted stretch of Appalachia where he worked for an Enron subsidiary now dissolved, along with his job and his pension. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Limbaugh. My name is Buster. Been listening to you for the longest time. Ever heard of the place where the sun don’t shine? Well, it’s about to.”

Buster has always been a thorough worker. Rush bellows in pain and shame and sinks senseless to the floor, whether from the prank or the pills is not clear. Janitors load him in a trash bag and tote him out.


Bill O’Reilly ­ Vicarious Warrior and Connoisseur of Adult Amusements

Before the inquisitors can begin to question him he erupts in a tirade denouncing them and the judiciary committee for succumbing to the liberals’ hate-America agenda and for abandoning the troops under fire in harm’s way by casting doubt upon their dedication to patriotic American values and for

At a signal from the interrogators a Lynndie England look-alike steps forward, cigarette drooping from a corner of her mouth. In one hand is a dog leash, in the other a loofa made of steel wool. She’s wearing a tool belt bristling with an assortment of other implements.

O’Reilly blanches and pulls out a cell phone. He punches in the number of the legal department at Fox network headquarters: “Your call is very important to us. All of our staff are currently assisting.”

He retreats toward the softening up sector with the dominatrix and a phalanx of guards in pursuit.


William Kristol – Agitpropagandist

No one did more than Kristol and The Weekly Standard he edits to stoke phony fears about Saddam’s Iraq and to construct rationales for attacks on unruly Muslims. After years of striving, the war he yearned for finally arrived. The attendant treatment of prisoners did not truly trouble him. During the election campaign he applauded W’s interrogation methods for being “rougher than what John Kerry would approve of.” And his magazine has been a persistent agitator for more exacting standards of personal responsibility. These two stances made him seem an especially appropriate subject for testing the definition of torture.

At first inside the Tortugon he displays that broad smile familiar from his frequent stints as a talking TV head. It looks like he’s trying far too hard to appear friendly and nice. An agent cocks a hand back poised to slap Kristol’s face and the smile wilts.

“Torture!” he whimpers. “Torture. I can feel it already. Stop!”

“We don’t believe you,” they chorus in reply. “We already knew you’re a wuss, but you’re not that big a wuss. You haven’t even been hit yet.”

“Psychological torture,” he whines. “That’s even worse.”

They shove him to the floor, circle around, and piss on him. He’s dripping when they stuff him into a small wooden crate and nail the lid shut.

“Tell us when you’re ready to give honest answers,” they shout at the box. The only response is sobs.


Rupert Murdoch ­ Hypnotist

The cuffed and hooded global media mogul is apoplectic when tossed into the Tortugon. Any setting he does not steer and control strikes him as contrary to Nature.

Interrogators ask him why the news personnel of his networks and papers seem incapable of speaking or writing the T word, no matter how hideous the facts they are reporting. His operations are noted for their direction from the top. Perhaps if he learned about torture from personal experience he could return and give them more accurate guidance.

He can only sputter in response.

They poke him aside with batons, remove the hood, and strap him into a chair. Around it they place a dazzling strobe light to flash straight into his face and speakers to blast the collected works of Rage Against the Machine and Eminem into his ears.

“Torture?” they ask. “If not, we’ll be back.”


Liberal Media ­ Tutti Toady Choir

An investigative report by an army general last summer explicitly acknowledged that inmates had been tortured at Abu Ghraib. Emails later pried loose by the ACLU from the FBI said the same regarding their agents’ observations in Guantanamo. A New York Times story about this did include the T word-but only when quoting the email. The headline sanitized the events to “Abuse”; the reporters’ words describing these appalling events spoke of “mistreatment,” “abuse”, and “harsh tactics.” The T word had been deleted from their vocabulary. A long Los Angeles Times editorial detailed these “cascading allegations of prisoner abuse” but could not bear to insert the T word until the final sentence.

Into the Tortugon troop the entire editorial and news executive corps of the New York and Los Angeles Times. “You are professional journalists,” an interrogator taunts. “Why can you not name things accurately? Why can you not match the honesty and courage of reports by the army and the FBI?”

They grope into a huddle and babble.

“Is it because you cherish your White House press passes and banquet invitations too much? Because you fawn upon the sovereign and seek his favor even more than the military and the police do?”

Huddle and babble.

“Does your failure to tell the plain truth make you co-dependent enablers of behavior you should be exposing instead?”

Huddle and babble.

Guards converge, slice off their clothes and hoods with knives, and start piling the naked journalists into a pyramid. Some are bent into oral sex postures. Others are ordered to masturbate. The journalists have been so domesticated for so long that they comply with hardly a murmur of protest.

Torture yet?

They are marched into the softening up quarter for further studies in logomachy.


Rev. Pat Robertson, Rev. Jerry Falwell, William Bennett ­ Moralists

The apostles of absolute moral values enter befuddled. Kicks and profane screams have jarred them awake every time they dozed off for the past three days.

Nor have they been allowed to bathe or shave. Rather than the Lord’s anointed, they look and smell like the Fallen and they know it.

“Gentlemen,” the grandest of the inquisitors greets them, “you have exalted yourselves into guides and exemplars for the rest of us benighted. You converse personally, by your own testimony, with the Almighty Creator of everything unto the ends of the universe. He reveals to you the nature of good and evil, and you then instruct us.”

They nod and smile.

“Therefore we are perplexed and dismayed. You have been swift and sulfurous in denouncing transgressions here and abroad. Yet when leaders of your own earthly beliefs and faction conduct or condone abominations, your vision dims and your voice falters. You abandon your moral clarity and become backsliders into relativism.”

Faced with a skeptic instead of the usual adoring faithful, they are confounded.

The guards pounce and strip them bare. One swings a water bottle into Bennett’s jaw so hard that the plastic cracks and claws a bloody furrow across his chin. Another pistol whips Falwell, presses the barrel against his temple, and pulls the trigger. Click. Then he loads it and turns it to Robertson’s head.

Torture yet?

They throw the three divines down and chain them to yokes in the floor with their heads aligned toward Mecca.

“Allahu akbar. Say it!”


The guards lash their backs and butts with metal rods.

“Say it!”

“Allahu akbar,” they murmur.


A guard opens a vial and dribbles searing chemicals across their lacerated backs.


“Excellent,” the inquisitor says. “And now your prayer of redemption. Repeat after me: Jesus was the bastard son of a slut.”

They cannot.

The guards stoop over and start ripping out their fingernails with pliers.

“JESUS WAS THE BASTARD SON OF A SLUT!” they howl to high heaven.

Torture yet?


Alan Dershowitz ­ Torture Titrator

This Harvard law professor was summoned to the Tortugon under special circumstances: not to help define where torture starts but where it should stop. He has advocated placing torture under judicial restraints. It now occurs covertly and haphazardly without proper supervision. If judges could issue “torture warrants”-but only in very specific and extremely threatening situations-then torture would become a useful protective device.

“I did not advocate that,” Dershowitz shouts before the interrogators even ask about it. “I said we should bring torture into the open, frankly debate it, but not necessarily decide to legalize it.”

“You advocated exactly that in Israel,” an interrogator says.

“Israel is a special case,” Dershowitz lectures. “Exceptions must be made on its behalf.”

“Why not for America also? Aren’t we special too? Don’t we have enemies? Doesn’t everybody?”

“Well, perhapsbutanyway, I only advocated tightly controlled, non-lethal types of torture,” Dershowitz says.

“How would you know for sure what’s lethal? On the screen in your waiting cage you saw what happened to Cheney. Anyone could have a bad heart or some other fatal weakness. We could try a succession of torture techniques on you and eventually confirm that.”

“No, wait!” the law professor pleads. “Let’s analyze this, be reasonable and prudent.”

“Yes, maybe we should give you a break to rethink your opinions about all this,” says the inquisitor. “That would be civil.”

Agents sling Dershowitz into the softening up zone. They bend him into an excruciating backward bow with ropes from ankles to shoulders and start injecting him with a series of brain scrambling drugs. Soon he will be squirming in his own excrement. In a day or two he will be raving and yanking his hair out in clumps, much more demented than usual. If he lives that long.


Supplemental Roster

There is no shortage of additional potential witnesses with qualifications similar to those above. If it appears their testimony could be helpful, they will be summoned at the committee’s discretion before the final witness.


Alberto Gonzales ­ Tonto, LL.D.

A black clad honor guard in visored helmets kicks and punches the star witness, W’s hooded nominee for attorney general, through the throng in the hearing room. They pitch him headlong into the Tortugon. Much of it is filled with the many previous witnesses still being tested to discover the meaning of torture. Their torments present a sadistic carnival sideshow of humiliation, pain, injury, and fear punctuated with groans and screams.

An interrogator lifts up Gonzales, draws off his hood, and reaches out as if to shake the cuffed hands. Instead he wrenches the thumbs back until Gonzales yelps.

Guards peel every thread of his clothing off and hang him by his cuffs from a hook in the ceiling.

The interrogator opens the briefing book, flips through some pages for the prospective chief law enforcement officer of America to see and says, “Many of these techniques are already being assessed.” He gestures toward the purgatory in the softening up sector of the Tortugon. “Some we have reserved for you.”

An agent carrying an enema apparatus steps behind Gonzales, whose eyes bulge when the tube stabs in. As he writhes in pain and shame he pivots on the hook and sees the camera lenses watching and remembering everything. When the tube comes out a putrid mess oozes down his legs and drips off his feet.

“We will test the remaining techniques on you,” the inquisitor continues. “And if we get inconclusive results on any of those already applied to other witnesses, we will try them again with you as the definitive subject. This is fitting and proper, as I’m sure you’ll agree, since these techniques are the progeny of your own memos. At the end we will compile the results from all witnesses. Then we’ll know with detailed certainty what is torture and what is not, because you and the others will have told us.”

“Save me, Jesus!” Gonzales cries out. “I’ve been your good and faithful servant. Why have you forsaken me? Why?”

There is no answer.

Guards take him down from the hook and his day of judgment begins.


Chicken Hawk Soup for the Soul

Although Gonzales feels utterly abandoned, hundreds of millions-perhaps billions-globally would actually be fixated on his fate. The days of testing other witnesses will build audience numbers toward the climactic scourging of W’s chosen one on this genuine reality show. TV ratings will spike to levels never previously registered for public affairs programs.

These broadcasts will have everything the audience craves: violence, sex, perversion, and the wanton exercise of arbitrary authority. And the FCC will indulge in no hissy fit to censor them. This is not some wardrobe malfunction during a football halftime entertainment; this is news vital to the open operation of democratic institutions. Just as church and state must not mingle, so entertainment and news must not. These are sincere broadcasts in the public interest, and the FCC would certainly recognize that. Incidentally, they will also attract more advertisers-of the rather edgy sort-at higher rates than anything but the Super Bowl.

So the show will go on and it will vanquish apathy. It will be the daily hot topic in homes, workplaces, social gatherings, and houses of worship across the land. Both the prurient and the prudish, often overlapping categories, will be fascinated. Teachers in high school civics classes will radiate satisfaction at seeing their pupils eagerly paying attention to hearings on the nomination of a government official. This degenerate spectacle hosted by the senate judiciary committee will be more dramatic than the Watergate hearings, more scandalous than Clarence and Anita, more sordid than Bill and Monica. The public will adore it. An uplifting example of your tax dollars at work!

And this torture test will even benefit the witnesses who have foolishly brought events to their current state. By their tribulations in the Tortugon they can finally perform a useful function.

They cannot do anything requiring them to exhibit the courage of their convictions. To do that they would need courage and convictions; they have neither. Instead they excel at careerist maneuvers along the up escalator and at acquisitive exertions. They are yellow grubbers for power and moolah.

Most of them are of an age that would have made them fit for fighting during the war in Vietnam-but most of them did not. Slick Willie Clinton at least declared his opposition to that war while finagling ways to keep himself out of it. But this bunch supported the war while scrounging up deferments and evasions for themselves. And the few who did sign up, like W, usually got safe assignments that gave them the trappings of military service without the hazards of combat.

Submitting to the torture test would provide them an opportunity to redeem themselves. They are mostly such craven chicken hawk weenies that they will quail and capitulate very early in the testing. They will declare themselves suffering from torture long before any grave damage is done to them.

This will set a very restrictive U.S. standard for what captors may do to captives, and that will become the template for world standards. Then when Americans are taken prisoner these standards will shield them too from torture. In this way the Washington, media, and religious potentates-ardent and careless about sending soldiers off everywhere to wage perpetual war-will at last have done something themselves which they constantly tell others to do: support the troops.


DAVID UNDERHILL was a radio talk show host for many years in Mobile, Alabama until he was fired last spring after repeated failures to rectify his persistent political incorrectness. He can be contacted at


DAVID UNDERHILL lives in Mobile, Alabama. He can be reached at