“Hmmmphfffff….Grrrgglllphff…” The Ex-President sputters, spits, moans. We have him laid out on the bench now. Mason straddles him and pins his head back. Carson jams the rag in his mouth. I pour the water.
We’re starting to get the hang of it. (There’s only so much you can learn by watching internet videos.)
We’ve been at it for twenty minutes. But he still isn’t cooperating.
“We’re going to need more water.” I say to Carson, who stands by the door. “Go and fill the other bucket, would you? And get some towels.” Water is pooling under the bench, running all over the basement floor, making it slippery.
“I’m on it,” Carson says, and heads upstairs to the bathroom.
Ex President Slush is a stubborn bastard. You got to hand him that.
Or maybe it’s just, like Mason said, that the motherfucker really doesn’t understand the questions we’re asking him. Like we’re speaking a different language altogether.
We snatched him from the bathroom of a bookstore where he was touring to promote his best-selling “memoir.” While he was taking a break from signing autographs. Carson was hiding in the closet with the chloroform ready. Caught him with his pants around his ankles while he was reading a glossy new copy of his book, Tough Calls. Engrossed in his own so-called story upon the toilet, he never saw it coming. Never even had the chance to wipe. Which is why he stinks vaguely of shit, even now, lying on the bench. Mason helped Carson hoist him—half-naked and unconscious—out through the bathroom window, and out the back alley. Then it was into the car and gone.
We switched vehicles in a nearby tunnel. (The first vehicle had been stolen the night before.) The second was a rental that we’d got for cash down and with fake id. A few miles down the road, we switched out of that one too and into Greta’s minivan. Just like they do in the movies.
While we’re waiting for the water, Mason takes advantage of the break to lean in and scream in Slush’s ear. “I ask you again, how many civilians died as a result of your invasion of Oroq?! You floppy eared piece of shit. Don’t you know? Speak up! How many people did you and your buddies kill?”
Slush turns onto his side and coughs. “Hunh?” His eyes are bloodshot and red as they rise. “Kill? Me?” I’m guessing he never read the John Hopkins study. I’m guessing he believes that American bullets have magic powder on them that only allow them to kill “bad guys” and “evil doers.”
“How many goddamn refugees did you create, Slush? How many homeless are now huddled in refugee camps and slums because of you and your pals?”
“Hunh? ?.. We…We….brought …’em …freedom…” He coughs.
“Wrong answer you piece of shit. It’s over one million, you unbelievable ass.” Mason yelled. “Over a million dead because of you.”
“And two to three million refugees. Two to three million!” He grabs Slush by his hair. It’s grayed considerably since he was in office, I’ve noticed.
“Hnnmmm….Sladdam Asam … s…a murderer.”
On some level you’ve got to stand in awe of this kind of obtuseness.
“You’re the murderer here, you sonofabitch. Don’t you get that? We tried and convicted you in the car on the way over. Don’t you remember?”
I can tell it’s all that Mason can do to keep himself from grabbing Slush by the soaking throat and throttling his head down on the bench. Maybe choke him to death for real. I stand tensed ready to stop him. Because that isn’t the plan. We need Slush alive.
Just in time, Carson returns with the water. And we’re back at it again.
Carson stuffs. Mason straddles and holds. I pour. Greta watches from the door. (She doesn’t approve, as she has made clear.) Carlos videos the whole thing from the corner. You better believe we’re going to get his confessions on tape.
“You think this is funny now, Buddie, you pig? How many people did you and your posse do this too, hunh?” Mason interrogates, or rather berates, between my pours. “Did your buddies in the CIA ever let you see it up close?”
“Hmmmphfff….Hmmmphfff.” Slush spits. Gags.
“Oh yeah, Slush-puppy. You like this?”
The ex-President, the mass murderer, the war criminal, the silver spoon millionaire, the puppet of the ruling class, the phony cowboy, the official signature on torture and coup d’etat, gags and chokes and shakes so hard on the bench that this time it takes not only Carson, Mason, and myself but also Greta rushing up too to keep him held down in place. It’s almost like he’s having a seizure. The sonofabitch is surprisingly strong for someone his age. Like he’s a vampire that has grown powerful off of other people’s blood. But we’ve still got him pinned.
“Hmmmphfff…Hmmphhfff.” I finish one bucket and ready the second. It’s still cold from the tap. I can feel Greta’s eyes in the back of my neck.
Tortura de Agua. That was what the Spanish Inquisition had called it. Water Torture. “Would you call this torture, Mr. President? Does this count as torture?” I ask, and give him a chance to answer. Carson withdraws the cloth.
Slush doesn’t say a word. Just gasps for air.
“I don’t know… does this look like torture to you, Carson? Whaduyou think?”
“Not sure, Roger.” He answers me, “Let’s ask the Commander in Chief. He should know.”
“WHAT DO YOU THINK, MR. PRESIDENT?!” Mason shouts, shaking him by the jaw. Slush shivers and gasps.
“What’s that? ‘Damn right,’ you say?” Carson leans his head in, pretending as if he heard it from Slush’s sputtering lips. “He says, Damn right, it’s torture. Damn right. ”
“I couldn’t hear him.”
“Me neither…SAY IT!” Mason shakes him harder now. After his violent spasms, the ex-Prez has now suddenly gone limp. His head is flopping back and forth in Mason’s hands. “SAY IT!”
“Hunh…Hunh nnnnh …?”
“Tell us if waterboarding’s torture now, you prick. Tell us.”
Carlos steps up to the bench, filming over our shoulders, not to miss the money shot.
But still I’m thinking Slush doesn’t quite understand the question. And I’m sure that with the water coursing down over his gagged tongue and down his throat to the point of virtual drowning, he is not in a place to appreciate the irony of our interrogation. He looks disoriented. His eyes are starting to roll back. I find myself almost feeling bad for him. Maybe Greta is rubbing off on me. His lips creak open and we are all hunched, watching him, listening. If only he would admit it, we could end this thing.
It’s right then that President Budd M. Slush vomits. And not just all over himself. All over the bench. All over us. All over everything.
It wasn’t my idea to waterboard him. It was Mason’s. Carson’s too.
Carson was of the opinion that the goal was to somehow make the former President “see the light.” To see the error of his ways. Maybe not the entire light—who could stand that without going blind? But some beam, some glint of it. Of his terrible wrong-doing. Of his guilt. Of the suffering that he had caused and helped to cause. His idea was to break Slush down, physically, but also with pictures of mangled Oroqi children and so forth. In a way, his goal was to save Slush’s soul.
Mason was more cynical. Vengeful too. He had no hope of “turning” or “teaching” Slush whatsoever. He just wanted to cause the mothafucka pain. He wanted pay-back. For the million or so Oroqis that had died. For the tens of thousands of his brothers and sisters who had wasted away in prison cells. For Mason’s own brother , Greg, a US Marine, who had died a painful death, gasping and choking on desert sands. For his father laid off and out of work for the past four years, since the economy tanked. Because of Slush.
As for me, I’d love to put a big dunce cap on the bastard like they did in the old Chinese Cultural Revolution and parade him through the city streets. Let the masses confront him face to face and tell him what they really think of him. Make him confront the parents of those who have been killed in the wars. Make him confront the brothers and sisters of those who drowned in Louisiana. Make him grovel in the mud of the 9th Ward. Make him look into the faces of those he lied to. Of those he robbed and ravaged. We’ll find a way to make him listen. Parade him around in his underwear carrying a sign that says: “I admit it. I lied. And a million died.” Let inner city youth, and welfare mothers slap that spoiled smirk off his face.
The real kicker would be if we could somehow get him out of the country, and over to Oroq. Or even just down to one of those Latin American countries he tried to topple. To where the real victims are. Just you imagine that.
But this is fantasy. I know—we all know—we are on lockdown for the foreseeable future. That the security forces are out and looking for Slush, and for us, though they don’t know who “we” are. We best not press our—already considerable—luck. The new president himself has come on the television, eloquently pleading on Slush’s behalf, and threatening deadly retaliation against whomever is responsible for this “terrorist abduction.” Also against anyone who harbors them…them meaning us. We joke bitterly amongst ourselves about which country will be targeted for invasion “in retaliation.”
With the amped up police presence on the streets, and their satellite surveillance, if we walk Slush outside, it would only be a matter of minutes before Secret Service and SWAT teams would be on us like white on rice. We’d be dead—bullets in our backs and in our heads—before we made it to the end of one city block. This is not 1967, and we are not in Maoist China. We are not in a revolutionary situation, as much as we’d like to be. No matter that with all that’s gone wrong in this world, we by all rights we should be in one. But alas, with the way things are, even if the Feds weren’t on to us, no doubt some passing dumbass would call and report us for the reward money and the five minutes of fame. Meanwhile some dipshits on the street are sure to mistake our people’s court for an open-air autograph signing. Or for part of an elaborate publicity stunt to increase book sales. Sales of Tough Calls have shot through the roof, by the way. Even as we torture Slush on the bench, I realize, we are making him rich.
No, we don’t have the masses to back us up. At least not yet. How quickly people forget. I swear that if someone had pulled this off five years ago the country would be in the streets celebrating. But not now. People have forgotten. The media has let them. Helped them. Made them, even. The TV screens burn the truth out of people’s brains.
So we—the six of us—stand in, holding the place of a justice to come, until the people are ready to come forward. We stand here in this dark basement, wiping up the president’s vomit and smelling his shit, trying to think up a way to remind the people of what’s been forgotten. Of what they need to know. Of what is to be done.
Greta’s idea is to collect a $100 million ransom for Slush’s life. And then get to organizing and arming the people, which is where it’s really at.
Frankly I can hardly believe we’ve been able to hold him this long without the walls crashing in on us. I never said it aloud, but I was convinced deep down that he would have had some homing device on him, some radio-beacon microchip implanted under his skin, to prevent such a scenario from befalling a former President. Like they do for pets these days, to prevent them from ever getting lost. I frisked him down to the clammy skin, but found no such lump. He is alone and at our mercy.
Since we can’t be parading ex-President Slush through the streets for a display of people’s justice any time soon, my back-up proposal is that we take some photographs of him. Compromising photographs, shall we say. Photos of Slush wiping his ass on the Constitution, for instance. Photos modeled after the poses that those US soldiers put the prisoners into at Ebu Garb prison. Photos of him holding confessional signs that say things like “Damn Right, I’m a war criminal.! J ” We can release them over the internet somehow. If Wikileaks could do it, why can’t we?
Regina has already made a big white dunce cap out of stiff, sturdy paper. And also a set of placards with phrases painted on. There’s an orange jump suit for Slush to wear. She takes a towel and dries Slush’s dripping face, gently. Sits him up on the bench, like a baby, hands still tied behind his back. Groaning, he almost looks human. Depleted, huffing and puffing, exhausted and pathetic. But close to human. Is he about to cry?
Carlos gets into position with the camera.
Well, somebody had to do something, didn’t they? To hold this sonofabitch accountable for his war crimes and crimes against humanity? The spectacle of this killer collecting royalties and signing autographs , dipping his pen in the blood of the people—it was just too much to bear. When the state fails to enact justice, the obligation to do so falls back to the people, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you agree? Wouldn’t Thomas Jefferson for Chrissake? Or are we just supposed to sit back and let these devils run free on their 100-acre estates?
The new President’s pussy ass Justice Department sure wasn’t going to take action. His Party is far too complicit themselves in similar crimes to ever lead such an investigation, let alone a prosecution. The state would not and could not act….And so, we did. And will.
It’s not just about Slush either. We’ve got a whole list. You can probably guess at the names yourself. That is if your brain hasn’t been fried too.
The goal is not just to show them the error of their ways. Or to give them a taste of their own medicine. It’s to show America and the world that we—that we all—don’t need to bow down or beg before the Slushes of this world. That we can—if we really want to—pull them down off of their high horses and into the muck they created. That we can hold them accountable. That we can achieve some semblance of justice. In this world. Not just the next one…that is if you believe in that Judgment Day stuff.
I mean, if our little tribune of the people—there’s just six of us in this—could pull this stunt off, just imagine what 600 could do. Or six thousand. Or six million.
Please note: The author of this fictional story does not in any way shape or form advocate or condone abducting or torturing retired US war criminals or any other public officials for that matter, nor does he condone or advocate any other acts of criminal violence. He is a peaceful and justice-loving person, who merely happens to believe that torturers and mass murders ought to held accountable for their actions. Which apparently these days is a radical idea.