The Sun's Not Yellow, It's Chicken
Why Torture Makes Perfect Sense to the Commander-in-Chief
by Jason Miller (December 2005)
While listening to the President denying its use, I find myself thinking about American torture. And I ask myself, "At what point does a tortured man 'break'? Is it the moment when he hears his twisted arm snap behind his back? Or is it, perhaps, the moment when he sees the frayed electrical cord draw blood from his beaten skin? Or maybe it's when he feels the creeping dread of pain promised after hours without sleep, squatting on a cold cement floor, hearing the sound of footfalls moving menacingly down the hall?"
These questions are not born of morbid curiosity. Rather, these are practical questions, the banal stuff of present day American politics and policies. Because, despite the President's pale claims to the contrary, the American government does, in fact, condone the use of torture. The President himself makes this clear when he promises to veto any bill that "makes it illegal to practice the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment" of people. And certainly his Vice President makes no apologies for the American use of torture, when he bluntly says, " Sometimes you gotta play rough."
So, why does the American government use torture? When I consider the question, two possible answers occur to me: 'dark logic' and 'madness.'
In the 'dark logic' answer, torture is not so much a means to an end as it is, in fact, the end itself. Consider, no one in the Bush administration truly believes that torture yields timely or even useful information - nor would they care if it did. The only true value of torture - a value well understood by thugs like Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Saddam Hussein and now George W. Bush and Dick Cheney - is that torture terrifies people. Lots of people. It creates a deep, lasting, irrational fear of national authority: a fear felt both by the enemy abroad and by citizens at home. And, historically speaking, it is disturbingly effective.
But the 'dark logic' theory suggests that the Bush administration is rational - albeit darkly rational. And, frankly - and let's be honest here - there's not enough evidence of 'rational behavior' in the Bush Administration to support this. The other, more plausible, reason for the existence of American torture is this: 'madness.'
However, the more I consider 'madness' as the reason behind American torture, the more I am disturbed by what this 'madness' has to say, not only about George W. Bush and his administration, but also about the American people since September 11, 2001.
When I think of America's new embrace of torture, I am reminded of Bob Dylan's Tombstone Blues. Listen as Dylan sings: "John the Baptist, after torturing a thief, looks up to his hero, the commander-in-chief, saying, 'Tell me great hero, but please make it brief. Is there a hole for me to get sick in?'"
Americans in the post 9/11 Age of Unreason are Dylan's metaphoric John the Baptist after their mass conversion to President Bush's absolutist religion: 'You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists.'
Lest we be deemed 'with the terrorists,' we marched blindly behind the Commander-in-Chief, a would-be messiah who promised us deliverance from our perceived enemies and fears. Under his leadership, we willingly destroyed nations and murdered people - by the thousands, and then by the tens of thousands - in the hopes that our enemies would be vanquished and our fears finally dispelled.
But instead, over time, the Commander-in-Chief only dredged up more enemies and more fears from our collective imagination. And consequently, over time, the dead bodies only continued mounting. And consequently, over time, we descended into an immoral black hole, with no way out.
It was then, with blind rage and near religious righteousness, that we started torturing others. It was then, in the darkest of ironies, that we become the enemy we feared.
Searching for the hole to get sick in, Dylan's John the Baptist looks up. "The Commander-in-Chief answers him, while chasing a fly, 'Death to all those who would whimper and cry.' And dropping a barbell, he points to the sky, saying, 'The sun's not yellow; it's chicken.'"
As with Dylan's John the Baptist, we also look up after torturing the enemy, and stare into vacuum of the Commander-in-Chief's eyes. And as he looks back at us, we suddenly understand the President madness: he thrives on our fears.
And our gorge
We look back into the hole and find ourselves getting sick, left alone with our innocence and ethics gone, left alone with only Macbeth's lament to speak: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?"
And we weep when we realize - no, it won't.
- Steven Laffoley, 14 November 2005
Steven Laffoley is an American writer living in Halifax. He is the author of Mr. Bush, Angus and Me: Notes of an American-Canadian in the Age of Unreason.
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- from Common Dreams