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
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 rises.
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
And we weep when we realize - no, it won't.
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. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or