A Hollywood Hack Holiday

Ending Torture One Dick At a Time

CAUTION! To paraphrase Bill O’Reilly, you are now entering a no-censor zone that discusses obscene activity.

The Christmas movie from Sony Pictures I want to see is Seth Rogan and James Franco rectally feeding Dick Cheney at the climax of a movie sequel called The Enhanced Interview: Saving the Homeland One Dick At a Time.

Rogan and Franco have a good track record at getting money for movies that break taboos. Both are actor/directors not queasy about biological functions. Rogan co-directed the movie The Interview that caused an international incident by having an actor play the real Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and, among all the dick jokes, exploding his head into biological goo; and Franco just directed an excellent film called Child Of God based on a Cormac McCarthy novel in which a mentally ill, homeless redneck is shown from behind cleaning his dirty ass crack with a stick and, later, having sex with a female corpse for whom he has purchased a red dress. Rectal feeding and/or re-hydration of an actor playing Dick Cheney would not be much of a hurdle for these brave cineastes.

While the North Korea movie may be an adolescent and politically irresponsible comedy, Child of God is a dark, small-budget gem. The kind of biological/psychological frankness the film engages in would have never been shown in theaters or on TV before the cell phone images of torture from Abu Ghraib in Iraq seeped into the American consciousness. Scenes of red-blooded American men and women torturing naked male Iraqi prisoners in one of Saddam Hussein’s hideous dungeons shocked the American aesthetic. Sadistic behavior bordering on sodomy as US military policy? Hey, that doesn’t comport with American values!

But, then again, I’m afraid it does.

Scott Haze in Child of God; Dick Cheney; James Franco, left, and Seth Rogan up the creek in North KoreaScott Haze in Child of God; Dick Cheney; James Franco, left, and Seth Rogan up the creek in North Korea

For this advancement (or degradation) in cultural aesthetics — at its worse, there’s the film series brand Saw — we have to thank the advent of cell phone cameras and government torture facilitators like Dick Cheney, who as a young man was soft, delicate and privileged enough to willfully avoid service in Vietnam, but as an old man with a bum ticker became powerful and ruthless enough to advocate torturing human beings in dungeons with hooks in the ceiling and drains in the floor to whoosh away all the hosed off blood, piss and shit from the previous eight-hour work shift. Cheney is even cold-blooded enough to say on Meet The Press that he doesn’t care that innocent people were tortured under his program: “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective.” This is a man comfortable in a secure and luxurious mansion who has never gotten any torturous biological matter on him.

Senator John McCain, on the other hand, is the oddball Republican passionately against torture. The reason is simple: McCain, whose suffering at the hands of the Vietnamese is legend, knows how really humiliating and biologically messy torture is. He may be a militarist; he still wants absolutely nothing to do with it. It was instructive to watch Bill O’Reilly debate McCain on the torture report. What soon became clear was that O’Reilly with all his bullying brusqueness didn’t have a clue what McCain knew in his viscera and bones, and O’Reilly was not willing or able to stretch to imagine it. He was a “patriot,” and it would be like allying himself with “America haters on the far left” to even question the CIA. His position, like every other defender of the CIA, was based totally on authority, not evidence. CIA defenders all wanted to know why the Senate investigators didn’t interview CIA leaders and include their remarks. One good answer is because the Senate report implied they were all liars.

I’ve always been of the school that passive, incurious citizens need to have their noses rubbed in horrors done in their name but kept hidden from them. The classic case, of course, was those camps and the horrible smells in Germany and Poland. Sergeant Schultz was the perfect joke when he would say, “I see nah-think!”

This desire of mine to rub noses in the stink from the basement of our history comes, I think, from being raised by a medical school physiology professor who liked to point out in his auditorium lectures to incoming freshman that the next time you’re kissing your girl- or boy-friend imagine you’re kissing one end of a 26-foot tube half full of shit. My dad was notorious for this. They loved the crudeness of his lectures, which kept them awake. Dad was also famous in the Grant household for the brown, splotchy leg bone with the aging manila tag on it that said “Made In Japan.” He’d cut it from a corpse on Peleliu and dangled it below his PT boat so little fishes could clean it. It’s now in my living room bookcase. Collecting Japanese skulls and bones was the rage then. While we’re on the topic, dad also told his three sons (I was probably 10 then) about the Marines on Peleliu who had strung Japanese scrotums inside their quarters as Christmas decorations. I asked him about that scene once when he was a bent-over old man of 86. It jarred him a bit, but I was his son, so that kind of shock was part of the training. He was quiet for a moment as he resurrected the scene in his mind. A thorough atheist, my dad then muttered: “God, that’s horrible.”

I’ve always been grateful that my warped ol’ dad shared that scene with his sons with a cynical, worldly chuckle — as if to say, brace yourselves, boys; it’s ugly out there. For me, it forever precluded a romantic or glorified posture toward war. The irony for him was, as a pro-war advocate he didn’t intend the tale to poison the well, which the scene helped do for his middle son. If war meant tossing out the window all rules of human decency, then I was going to stand up for those rules.

For me, a war profiteer/politician like Dick Cheney is an example of the scum that rises to the surface in wars: On the outside, he’s avuncular, soft and concerned about his own comfort and safety; inside, he harbors a selfish and cold-blooded psychopath. That he now so comfortably defends torture only reinforces his malevolence.

When Cheney was asked on TV whether the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques used were all approved by the White House legal team, he said yes. When he was asked about rectal feeding and re-hydration, he twitched and his face blanched and he said, “No, not that one.” Why is that one any different from water boarding, one might ask. After all, it’s just the other end of my dad’s 26-foot tube. It’s because, on a human, psychological level it’s one of the most universally humiliating things one can do, especially to a male. It’s called “rape,” the dirty little secret of American prisons and the American military. The point of rape is not to get information. All the crap-talk about obtaining vital information about “ticking bombs” and whatnot is revealed as dishonest cover when the rectal torture is mentioned. Let’s not talk about that. When men get to sticking hoses up other men’s rectums, the point is clearly to degrade and humiliate the person. Think of those cops in New York who tore up a Black man’s guts with a toilet plunger. To use prison lingo, they’re doing it “to punk” another male.

Torturers at work, Dick Cheney and one of Colombian Fernando Botero's 85 paintings of torture at Abu GhraibTorturers at work, Dick Cheney and one of Colombian Fernando Botero’s 85 paintings of torture at Abu Ghraib

The New York Times reported that members of the CIA pro-torture fraternity referred to those who opposed using torture and preferred a method that emphasized developing rapport as employing “sissified” techniques. Developing rapport with another human being was how sissies got information. As Cheney put it sarcastically on TV, “What should we have done, kiss them on both cheeks?”

The exceptional United States of America had been shamed by ignorant desert peasants, and it was important to physically and psychologically humiliate them. It was important, one, for US agents who needed to psychologically regain the sense of imperial omnipotence shaken by the 9/11 attacks. And, two, it was important to psychologically break one-by-one the arrogance of these feudalistic Allah freaks who thought they could attack the great icon of modernity, the United States of America. Instead of analyzing why the attacks were made and dealing with the attackers as international criminals, Cheney sent the nation to “the dark side,” which only made matters worse. Our torture and murder campaign in Anbar province led to the rise of ISIS. The CIA administrator of the torture program, Jose Rodriquez, makes it clear in his defense of torture that the most important issue at stake is personal honor. Like any nationalistic soldier-zealot who violates the rules of decency (think Oliver North), he needs to see himself as a hero, even a martyr if necessary, for doing so.

In his 2006 book A Question Of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War On Terror, Alfred McCoy addresses the question why people like Dick Cheney and those he tasked turn to torture: “In sum, the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis, not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.”

In the 1970s, Susan Brownmiller provocatively declared rape was not a sexual crime; it was more about power. The same can be said of torture; it’s less about information than it is about power. A certain kind of masculine, dominating power.

One can argue ‘til one’s blue in the face that the accumulated effect — or lack of effect — of torture is self-defeating and that obtaining information through humane methods (like developing rapport) is, in fact, more effective and, most important, more propitious for the prospects of future peace and sanity. But once one has invested oneself in the grisly torture business and has the blood and shit on one’s soul there seems no turning back. Although there are high-profile cases like that of General Jacques Massu, the French officer who oversaw the torture program in the Battle of Algiers; late in life he conceded his torture program was a failure that backfired and contributed to the final French defeat in Algeria.

As for the US torture program and all the delusional excuses and PR covering up being aired now here in the US media, McCain said it best: “The world knows what we did.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee report notably makes no recommendations and says nothing about the prosecutions many would like to see. As such, it amounts to an information dump hostile to the National Security State akin to what Edward Snowden and Wikileaks did. Mostly what it has done is establish what is called in the news business a “pissing contest.” Previously, it was a matter of state secrets and subversive press efforts to uncover them. Now information has been made public and it’s an argument within the government. Obviously, the report is only the tip of the iceberg. But it’s a good thing — in fact, maybe it’s the best thing the US Congress has done in a long time. It’s possible thousands of photos of torture kept secret by the Obama administration will soon be released by court order. Encouraged by the Senate report, public pressure for revelations like this should be increased.

The real challenge is how to get a grand jury to indict Dick Cheney and his ilk for war crimes. In the short term, a Republican Congress is arriving in Washington with sleigh bells a-jingling, so indicting Cheney is about as likely as getting a grand jury to indict a frightened white police officer for emptying his gun into an unarmed young African American male. In the meantime, we can all ponder a Rogan/Franco movie sequel featuring Rogan in make-up as Cheney being water-boarded and rectally re-hydrated by Franco in a dishdasha playing one of those innocent Arab torture victims.

Hey, anything goes … as long as we achieve our objective.