Darkness Falls

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I’ve been trying to write about torture, and I’m finding it slow, painful going.  I’ll begin one thought only to be distracted by wave after wave of random related thoughts crashing on the heels of the unfinished original, leaving me twitching in psychic anguish, paralyzed and at a complete loss for words.  My God, how did we let it happen?  And why in hell haven’t we stopped it?  Why have we not arrested the torturers?  Why have we not impeached this sorry excuse for a President?

“History will not judge this kindly,” to quote that rat bastard, John Ashcroft.

That of course presupposes that there will be a future from which to look back on this disgraceful period, and that this is just a phase, not simply the end.


What a deep and abiding pity it is that it ever came to this in the United States of America.  There are relatives of mine, and yours too I’d wager, just spinning in their graves.  I know the founding fathers are, and have been for some time.

When I was young and lacking a deep understanding of our history, I believed all the good things I heard about America, and never heard about the bad.  I probably received more cultural conditioning than most, being born into a military family.  For the longest time my father embodied America to me – and he was a cross between John Wayne and Audie Murphy.  I thought we were a country of humanitarians and heroes.  

As most of my generation, I was steeped in the post WWII mythology rooted in America’s then recent wartime experience.  The story went that we were the cavalry forever riding to the rescue, good guys in white hats, intrepid protectors of the weak and downtrodden, brave and true, full of can do, and friends to one and all…but hell on the bad guys.

The truth of course was much more complicated.

I was still pretty young, maybe 12, when I became a fan of Mark Twain.  I loved him for his humor and for his humanity, and began to read my way steadily through his body of work.

I soon stumbled upon the War Prayer.

O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

from Twain’s War Prayer


This opened a new window for me into Mark Twain’s soul and into the soul of America.  I believe I was primed to learn from this by the events of the previous year, the assassination of President Kennedy.  At some point I began to reassess the character of our nation.

In between tours of duty overseas, we always lived in the South when we were stateside, usually Alabama or Georgia, Ft. McClellan or Ft. Benning.  My father was from a little place called Webb, Mississippi, which is about 15 miles from Clarksdale, home Of Robert Johnson, father of the Delta Blues – and when you see the place you get it.  When we traveled there, as we did every summer that we weren’t overseas, it was like going back in time.  Things didn’t change much in those parts back in those days – likely still don’t.

I remember the colored and white facilities, and the rigid structure of a segregated society, though it struck me as deeply strange even at the time.  It was the world where my father grew up, but you’d never know it.  He and my mother both worked to lose their southern drawls and there was never racist talk around our house.  I attribute the former to a desire to advance my father’s career and the latter to his serving with and knowing black people in the Army.  At any rate I’m glad to have been spared the racism – the southern accent I have since re-acquired.  

When my father retired to Huntsville, Alabama in 1964, the Civil Rights Movement was in high gear.  I followed it all raptly over the tv and radio, the marches in DC, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, the beatings, lynchings, bombings, disappearances and assassinations.

A picture began to emerge for me that all was not well in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  

Then there was Vietnam.  The government said one thing, the returning GIs said another.  With a little help from the Berrigan Brothers, Daniel Elsberg and others, everyone in my generation learned that you can’t trust the government.


In 1970 I read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West.  This excellent book provided further proof that we had all been lied to about important matters – and that our history was considerably less glorious than we’d been led to believe.


Well now we face the brutal fact of torture sanctioned at the highest levels of our government – at the highest levels of the Whitehouse.

And that arrogant pissant of a President we have has admitted full knowledge.  Why is he not under arrest?  Why has he not already been impeached?  When are the American people and the rest of the world going to finally see justice done?  WHEN?


Please join the ACLU and CrooksandLiars and demand a call for an Independent Counsel to investigate the Administration’s approval of Torture and Abuse.

Bush Admits To Knowledge of Torture Authorization by Top Advisers

WASHINGTON – In a stunning admission to ABC news Friday night, President Bush declared that he knew his top national security advisers discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. Bush reportedly told ABC, “I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush also defended the use of waterboarding.

Recent reports indicate that high-level advisers including Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and George Tenet were part of the National Security Council’s “Principals Committee” that met regularly and approved the CIA’s use of “combined” “enhanced” interrogation techniques, even pushing the limits of the now infamous 2002 Justice Department “torture memo.” These top advisers reportedly signed off on how the CIA would interrogate suspects – whether they would be slapped, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning.

“We have always known that the CIA’s use of torture was approved from the very top levels of the U.S. government, yet the latest revelations about knowledge from the president himself and authorization from his top advisers only confirms our worst fears,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “It is a very sad day when the president of the United States subverts the Constitution, the rule of law, and American values of justice.”


The utterly amazing thing is that so many people are seemingly unphased by this shocking news.  How horrible of a people are we who can hear of torture at the highest levels of our so-called government and yawn as we reach for the remote?

What is wrong with us people?


Torturers in the White House: Why Is This Story Being Ignored?

We now have confirmation that the President of the United States gave the OK to torture. Where is the media? Where are the Democrats?

The biggest news of the last week went virtually uncovered by the mainstream, print media. ABC News first reported last Wednesday that top Bush Administration officials, including Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft, and George Tenet, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld met to discuss which particular torture techniques should be used against Al Qaeda suspects in U.S. custody.

The group signed off on specific techniques, including sleep deprivation, slapping, pushing, and waterboarding, and gave instruction “so detailed … some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed, down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.”

If John McCain is seriously considering Condoleezza Rice as a running mate, the former POW should keep in mind that Rice not only condoned torture, but chaired the National Security Council’s “Principals Committee” meetings to plan the details of torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was so troubled by the meetings, he was moved to object: “Why are we discussing this in the White House?” he asked, according to ABC. “History will not judge this kindly.”



This was a concerted effort, in blatant defiance of U.S. and International law, to establish the first official torture program in American history.  What kind of evil bastards are these?

Pentagon Releases ’03 Memo Giving Green Light to Torture

In other words, torture is only torture when the torturer feels guilty about doing it afterwards.


The Justice Department sent a legal memorandum to the Pentagon in 2003 asserting that federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes did not apply to military interrogators who questioned al-Qaeda captives because the president’s ultimate authority as commander in chief overrode such statutes. […]

“If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo wrote. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.”

Interrogators who harmed a prisoner would be protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense,” Yoo wrote. He also articulated a definition of illegal conduct in interrogations – that it must “shock the conscience” – that the Bush administration advocated for years.

“Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification,” Yoo wrote, explaining, for example, that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.

In other words, torture is only torture when the torturer feels guilty about doing it afterward.


CIA Admits to Existence of 7,000 Documents on Secret Detention, Rendition, and Torture


“For the first time, the CIA has acknowledged that extensive records exist relating to its use of enforced disappearances and secret prisons,” said Curt Goering, AIUSA senior deputy executive director. “Given what we already know about documents written by Bush administration officials trying to justify torture and other human rights crimes, one does not need a fertile imagination to conclude that the real reason for refusing to disclose these documents has more to do with avoiding disclosure of criminal activity than national security.”


America has got to be better than this – we must all demand it.  Torture, murder and kidnapping are not our values.  This is not the America our founders intended us to be.  This is not the America any of us should want to live in.  All of us should be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to right these terrible wrongs.

The fact that we have become a nation that tortures helpless prisoners just breaks my fucking heart.


Some of my previous writing on torture by the Bush administration:

The Unspeakable Evil of Torture

In order to more meaningfully discuss the reality of torture, I think one needs to consider the subject from a very personal point of view.  I believe you have to place yourself in the shoes of one who is tortured to develop a realistic feel for just what it is we’re talking about here.  It’s too easy to deal with torture in the abstract.

What would it be like to be the victim of torture?

Imagine that a powerful and dangerous enemy has captured you.  They take you to a prison fortress and strip you naked in a great hallway.  They sic a vicious war dog on you, letting it bite you over and over until you are covered in your own blood.  They laugh at you and mock you, getting off on your terror.

When you think you’ve had all that you can possibly endure, they begin to beat you. They enjoy it; they do it almost casually.  It’s their job.  They laugh when you moan or cry out – but they keep on beating you.  You feel your bones breaking, your ribs cracking. Your blood pools on the floor.  They kick your teeth out.  You cry out for help, knowing full well that there is no one coming to help you.  They won’t stop.  They stomp on your head, smashing your face into the concrete.  They kick you in the gut, and stomp on your feet, breaking bones.  When they get tired, they sic the dog on you again.  They keep going like this and maybe they don’t stop – until you die.


Or maybe instead of beating you, they strap you to a board, tip you backwards and slide you upside down into a tub of water until you are drowning.  Before you are completely drowned, they bring you back up and resuscitate you.  As soon as you are almost but not quite recovered, it’s back into the water with you to drown some more.  Again, they pull you out just before you die.  They’re good at this.  They’re very well trained, and know exactly what they’re doing.  They can keep you alive while drowning you over and over again.  They call this delightful little game waterboarding.

“The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.  


Or imagine that they force you to balance blindfolded on a precarious perch, while they wire you to a battery with which they administer electric shocks.  It is terrifying, excruciating, and life threatening – but it amuses your captors.  They mock you and snap a picture for the folks back home.


Now imagine these things being done to someone you dearly love: your mother, your father, your sister or brother – or maybe your ten-year-old son.


Now maybe we’re getting into the spirit of this thing.  Maybe now we can talk about what it is to torture people.  Now perhaps we can address the unspeakable evil, the abomination that is torture, and quit speaking of it as if it were merely bad manners – or the equivalent of a fraternity prank, as the rightwingers would have us believe.

Limbaugh on torture of Iraqis: U.S. guards were “having a good time,” “blow[ing] some steam off”

Hours before President George W. Bush announced plans to address the Arab world to condemn the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison, Rush Limbaugh justified the U.S. guards’ mistreatment of the Iraqis, stating that they were just “having a good time,” and that their actions served as an “emotional release.”


CALLER: It was like a college fraternity prank that stacked up naked men –

LIMBAUGH: Exactly. Exactly my point! This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of need to blow some steam off?  


In addition to being a monstrous and despicable act, an act of cold-blooded violence taken to its most obscene and perverse extreme; torture is a blatant violation of the War Crimes Act of 1996, the Geneva Convention, and the UN Convention Against Torture.

And the lies these bastards have told us should be enough in and of themselves, to send them all to prison.

Pentagon Propaganda: So Much Worse Than We Thought

David Barstow of the New York Times has written the first installment in what is already a stunning exposĂ© of the Bush Administration’s most powerful propaganda weapon used to sell and manage the war on Iraq: the embedding of military propagandists directly into the TV networks as on-air commentators. We and others have long criticized the

widespread TV network practice of hiring former military officials to serve as analysts, but even in our most cynical moments we did not anticipate how bad it was. Barstow has painstakingly documented how these analysts, most of them military industry consultants and lobbyists, were directly chosen, managed, coordinated and given their talking points by the Pentagon’s ministers of propaganda.

Thanks to the two-year investigation by the New York Times, we today know that Victoria Clarke, then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, launched the Pentagon military analyst program in early 2002. These supposedly independent military analysts were in fact a coordinated team of pro-war propagandists, personally recruited by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and acting under Clarke’s tutelage and development.

Read more here.

None of us, not one of us can afford to take this lying down.  They have dragged us through the mud, bankrupted our nation, stolen her wealth for themselves, ruined our grandchildren’s futures, lied to us all and murdered over a million people.  We should all be willing to face anything, sacrifice anything to change this – to turn this country around.  I don’t want to die a citizen of the most hated country in the world, and if I do I hope it is a direct result of having opposed these fascist bastards until my dying breath.

Hat tip to my brother FireCrow for turning me on to this incredibly powerful video.  It evokes the emotion I feel so deeply about these warmongers, liars and torturers.  May they be condemned for all time for what they have done in our names.  Amen.


Please join the ACLU and CrooksandLiars and demand a call for an Independent Counsel to investigate the Administration’s approval of Torture and Abuse.



Skip to comment form

    • OPOL on April 27, 2008 at 19:41
  1. … as usual.

    I think you have really nailed it here:

    I’ve been trying to write about torture, and I’m finding it slow painful going.  I’ll begin one thought only to be distracted by wave after wave of random related thoughts crashing on the heels of the unfinished original, leaving me twitching in psychic anguish, paralyzed and at a complete loss for words.

    If someone as aware as you is having difficulty wrapping your mind around this horrible situation, imagine what it is like for the average American who is not educated as to what has been going on.

    Some will simply give in to the fear and say it’s ok for us to torture folks, that it keeps us safe.

    But most will, I believe, have great difficulty understanding just what this means:  that America tortures.  I have a hard time myself.  It hurts the brain to think about it.

    That, to me, is the challenge … to communicate this reality in a way that cannot be turned away from, to make it real to everyone.

    • brobin on April 27, 2008 at 20:07

    Arrogance and profit are one thing, but selling out your entire country for either or both are treasonous by any American standard.

    I feel so many things.  Outraged that our Congress would allow this.  Amazed that our population hasn’t risen up in contempt of this.  Sadness that I couldn’t stop it myself.

    • Alma on April 27, 2008 at 20:18

    I’ve seen you do.  And thats saying a hell of a lot because you always do an excellent job.

    It might have been slow and painful going, but it was worth it.

  2. I was born in Germany.  My father was in the US army of occupation in post WWII Germany.  While there, he met & married my German mother.  I’ve always been interested in history & wondered how my mother’s country, could let evil flourish.  How could “Good Germans” stand by and allow such atrocities as torture, Concentration Camps, invasion of other countries that had not attacked nor threatened to attack, etc?  How could they?    

    I came to the uncomfortable realization that all the citizens of that country were to blame for actively or passively allowing such evil men rise to power and retain power.   For many years I remember naively thinking that at least America could never come to that point.  We had a Constitution!  The people of the “home of the brave” wouldn’t, like cowards, let themselves be manipulated by leaders who would use fear to control the masses.  Not here, not America.

    Sadly, I’ve learned that evil isn’t bound by national borders.  Leaders of one country are not inherently better or worse than leaders of another country.  I’ve learned the truth to the quote: “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” Have we learned?  When will we learn?  

  3. Because throwing up hasn’t helped yet…. come to think of it, nothing

    will help until these rat bastards are standing in front of

    the World Court answering to the world!  And then locked up

    (in an undisclosed location) never to be heard from again.

    Oh, and that undisclosed location is NOT going to be any of

    those currently on Cheney’s list of hide-outs!

    • dkmich on April 27, 2008 at 21:47

    First, the link to Audie Murphy was funny.  I was talking to a twenty something and mentioned Gabby Hays and got a complete blank look.  

    The creativity and design in your work is getting might awesome.  A couple I really, really liked.  The Mark Twain War Prayer was a first for me.  I’ve never seen it before.  God, he was good with language.

    Despite the naked and harsh reality of the 60s exposing the evil and corruptness that is us, I still can’t shake the the image of  America in a “white hat on a white horse” that they did so deeply ingrain in us.  I keep thinking that one of these damned elections, we are actually going to get someone who will it right, for a change.  I really need to give it up.  

    In any event, great job as usual OPOL. I really like your signature piece with the {{dad and child}} looking out over planet Earth.  Peace.

  4. I just had a revelation and it’s not a good one.  As I scrolled through this essay and looked at the pictures I found that the ones of torture don’t bother me any more.

    The ones that infuriated me were the pictures of Bush.

    I don’t think I like what that says about me.

    BTW, I heard him delivering a speech yesterday.  Has he always slurred his words that badly?  Didn’t he used to have at least some inflection in his voice?  Listening to him and knowing that he is the putative leader of the free world is sickening.

    • srkp23 on April 27, 2008 at 22:58

    It is shocking that neither the people nor our representatives are crying out against this torture regime. I blame the show “24” for making torture seem effective and necessary. I also blame the media for discussing, “When is it OK to torture?” (although of course they don’t say torture, they say, “use harsh interrogation techniques”). I love Helen Thomas, for using the correct word “torture” and asking Dana Perino over and over about it the other day. She is one of the lone heroes in the traditional media.

    Oh, and now, the Department of Justice itself says that sometimes torture is legal.

    Of course there’s a long history of this nation torturing but it has never been so publicly institutionalized and defended.  

  5. I don’t want to die a citizen of the most hated country in the world, and if I do I hope it is a direct result of having opposed these fascist bastards until my dying breath.

    I agree wholeheartedly. And I hope it won’t be necessary. I hope that others will join in and that we’ll unite and manage to stop this train wreck.  The most recent, horrifying revelations are going to help that.  There’s more, much more, that we can do to put pressure on “our” Congress to stop torture.  Let’s get busy.

  6. Turning and turning in the widening gyre

    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;

    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

    When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi

    Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

    Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again; but now I know

    That twenty centuries of stony sleep

    were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

  7. thank you……

    I am numb again…….

    this will be like Iran/Contra and all of the death squads and torture……

    swept under the rug……

    I have learned that the amerikan people do not want to know…….

  8. puppy+US Marine either.

    Now the complete lack of outrage, torches and pitchforks for peace simply means that the vast majority of zombinals  won’t trade a modern lifestyle for something so obscure as principles.

    • Caneel on April 28, 2008 at 03:29

    is heavy, indeed. Thank you for reminding us again, OPOL.

    Photos in our cells

    No, it is not

    the wounds,

    the naked-

    ness, the

    blood, the

    pools of it,

    the hoods,

    nor even

    the dead.

    We’re grabbed

    in the gut

    by the girl,

    so boyish,

    holding a

    leash and

    what we

    finally see

    is not a pet

    but, dogged

    and tortured,

    a man, collared,


    so we can

    hold him as

    our own,

    for we are

    slaves to

    this, this

    thing called


    We cannot

    free ourselves

    because we

    have not


    it wrong.


    is not


    to us.

    — Caneel

  9. absolutely powerful and difficult essay…thank you

    Lately when I talk to people about ‘politics’ one of the first things I mention is that we are now a country that tortures.  It’s official, condoned and encouraged.  All I’ve ever gotten in response so far is awkward silence…it’s a fucking shame.  and what to do?

    ….mostly it feels like anger….the mass indifference is confusing at best….

    I accidentally packed a borrowed copy of the war prayer with me, I might read it tomorrow if I get a few extra minutes…I’m not sure why I never really got into Mark Twain, it always seemed up my alley.

    (loved your last essay too btw…)



    1. near the end of your essay, to me, is haunting. His glassy eyed stare is one I’ve seen before and always causes great discomfort. I hope he finds peace.

      Thanks brother, for all your efforts.

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