Our national embarrassment
I've been pondering a remark by Sen. McCain the other day. When a reporter asked him if he saw some comparison between the tortures of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib with the torture he had experienced (very severe, causing among other things a broken arm) at the hands of the Vietnamese when he was a P.O.W., he dismissed the idea. "I was never sexually humiliated," he said.

Right. There are many ways to be beastly and cruel, to inflict as severe pain as can be imagined on a despised foe. Ottoman Turks used to favor the bastinado, beating people on the souls of their feet. The Romans chained galley slaves to the oars and, when they really wanted to hurt you, resorted to crucifixion. The Chinese had ingenious things they could do involving fingernails, and something called "Chinese water torture." The word "torture" itself comes from twisting, which was one of the things Spanish inquisitors might do to your body if they wanted to force the demons out of you. There must be 50 ways to hurt your brother, if Paul Simon wants to set that to music.

But none of these methods involves sex, kinky or otherwise. The Americans who gleefully posed for those photos with naked Iraqis were not merely depraved, they were/are weird. The only thing like it I've ever heard of -- apart from fantasy novels like Sade's Justine -- were the tortures in the secret prisons of Argentina during the "dirty war" (1976-1983) and in Chile during the reign of Pinochet. But even those twisted twisters didn't grin for the camera. Our Republic is in deep danger -- something is driving people, especially but not only men, to associate sex with violence. I wonder if it doesn't have to do with the great fear of sex, the notion that sexual organs and sexual acts are somehow "dirty," that comes from our evangelical preachers and our evangelical Attorney General. If sex is nasty, then the nastiest thing you can do to someone is force him to give a sexual display. Whereas, if sex is considered more or less normal and pleasurable but the human body is sacred, then the nastiest thing you can do might be to crucify him, i.e., tear his body apart. Different strokes for different sadists.

For a reasoned British view on the Iraq débâcle (though not specifically Abu Ghraib) and what to do about it, see America and Arabia after Saddam by Fred Halliday, 13 - 5 - 2004.


The unknown knowns
A friend just sent me, once again, Donald Rumsfeld's famous soliloquy from his Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing:
As we know, there are known knowns.
There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.
I've read that many times, but what has always bothered me about Rumsfeld and his partners is their unknown knowns, that is, all the things that were perfectly knowable but that Rumsfeld refused to inform himself about, like:

the inevitability of resistance in Iraq, the stupidity of making untrained clerks and service workers into prison guards, the principles of honor and shame in Arab and other cultures, and how to enrage people you claim to be liberating.


We can't be foreigners. We're Americans!
Mr. Bush observed with no irony to Al Arabiya TV: "Iraqis are sick of foreign people coming in their country and trying to destabilize their country, and we will help them rid Iraq of these killers."
(courtesy of Maureen Dowd)