Lies and Videotape
Among the hoard of pictures from Iraq viewed by members of America's Senate in a top-secret, eavesdrop-proof room -- a rather grandiose version of one of those smelly little, stained booths for which patrons of Times Square shops used to pay to watch "hot stuff" -- were pictures of a young female soldier, already recognized worldwide for her smiling-Nazi poses with abused prisoners, having sex with a gang of fellow soldiers.
One of the exalted Senator spectators, with all the dignity he could summon, was quoted, "She was having sex with numerous partners. It appeared to be consensual. Almost everyone was naked all the time."
Well, I am relieved to learn that it was all consensual, having feared that gang sex without consent was what had attracted the secret gathering of scores of America's highest officials to spend hours gawking at pornographic videotapes. Equally reassuring was the Senator's observation that everyone was naked. The level of depravity would be hard to imagine were soldiers having group sex with their clothes on. I suppose rumors of such a remarkable occurrence might have boosted attendance at the sessions.
I have to remind myself sharply that these astute observations come from the lips of an American Senator before getting too picky about fine points. Senators receive lifetime sinecures from wealthy benefactors who aren't in the business of rewarding brains or independence or critical thought.
It is hard to imagine a more pompous and foolish group than America's existing and recent-past stock of Senators. Whenever I hear Senator John Warner, I think he should change his name to something along the lines of Senator Quackenbush or Blunderbuss. Either of these names seems more fitting for a man who regularly delivers obvious trivialities with baritone gravity. The man is a walking Mount Rushmore figure with the brain of a gnat.
Another light unto the world, Senator Norm Coleman, added, "It was pretty disgusting, not what you'd expect from Americans. There was lots of sexual stuff, not of the Iraqis, but of our troops."
I'm sure glad he added that clarification about not involving Iraqis, but you have to wonder how anyone could entertain the notion of handcuffed men, beaten and peed-on, with hoods tied around their necks managing "sexual stuff."
You wouldn't expect much in the arts of seduction from a chunky-faced throwback who hails from a trailer park and probably enjoys ripping heads off chickens while watching The Price is Right. The idea of her having sex with prisoners recalls a Lina Wertmüller film in which a sadistic and disgustingly-ugly German prison-guard takes off her uniform and leather straps and boots and orders her pitiable Italian prisoner - played by Giancarlo Giannini, who has attempted to win a few crusts of bread by flattering her -- "Now, you fuck!" Poor Giancarlo.
Why would a Senator say it's not what you expect from Americans? He could be in trouble back home if he's interpreted as questioning the red-bloodedness of American troops. Senator, have you forgotten how the troops used to relish duty in the Philippines or Thailand where they qualified as doing patriotic duty while engaged in the kind of predatory sexual tourism other people get arrested for? After turning about half the female population under fourteen within a twenty-mile radius of Subic Bay into prostitutes, America was finally thrown out by the Philippines' government.
Coleman also might reflect on the heritage of his own august institution. The late Senator John Tower had to give up his cabinet post after revelations about years of chasing women around desks in a state of stupefied drunkenness. Senator Bob Packwood became known for greeting attractive female visitors by thrusting his tongue into their mouths and reaching under their skirts. Senator Ted Kennedy is reported once as having ducked under his linen-and-crystal-covered table for a quick one with a female reporter in a fancy Washington restaurant. A KGB report, recorded in a history of the Cuban missile crisis, tells of Robert Kennedy asking his Soviet Intourist guide to send a prostitute to his room.
A few more names confirm the illustrious moral character of the American Senate: David Dorenberger, Dan Quayle, Trent Lott, Roman Hruska. Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Bob Smith, Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Robert Torricelli, and Carol Moseley Braun - certainly not all associated with "sexual stuff," but offering an interesting mix of fraud, lunacy, and dangerous stupidity.
Then there's the simple statistic that the United States has the highest rate of illegitimacy of any developed country.
One of the world's leading pompous windbags, Senator Joe Lieberman, was quoted as saying, "It just deepens the conclusion that this was a cell block that had gone wild." I'm grateful to the Senator for pointing that out. It must have been difficult for a man of Lieberman's high character to endure hours of depraved lunacy in order to reach such a profound judgment. It shows real dedication to the job.
I may risk being labeled a quibbler, but I do have to ask why the grotesque pictures already in the public domain aren't more than sufficient evidence for the Senator's point? Maybe in Senator Lieberman's state, piles of naked men in hoods, dog leashes on prostrate men, and black-and-blue corpses stuffed into plastic bags with ice cubes are regarded as something less than wild? It must have required that extra bit about group sex to put things over the top for Senator Lieberman. Killing has never been known to bother him greatly, but he's always touchy about sex.
The interesting part of Lieberman's comment is his use of "cell block." Note how that neatly limits responsibility. It's not the prison as a whole, not the army, not the brutal occupation, and not the bloody, pointless invasion. It's a cellblock. Of course, this ignores the fact that these pictures had been circulating among American troops in Iraq for months, and it ignores persistent reports of widespread abuse from independent human-rights agencies. You might think that a Jewish man of Lieberman's generation would be at least slightly reluctant to promote the idea that only local juniors are responsible for horror.
Why would Lieberman want to make his sleazy little point? Because Senator Lieberman always supports the dumb use of force, the fist in the face of disagreeable foreigners, at least when that fist is connected to the United States..
Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell added, "I don't know how the hell these people got into our army." Hello, Senator Campbell, remember Lieutenant Calley?
It is interesting that for many of the Senators, the object of disgust is the "sexual stuff," not evidence of torture or abuse or murder. In fact, there is every reason to believe that many of these pictures show acts far more ghastly than group sex with a consenting cretin. By emphasizing the "sexual stuff," these American politicians assure themselves some public support for not releasing the images. Heavens, we sure don't want group sex on television during dinner hour!
The Senators seem to agree with Secretary Rumsfeld that America might be violating the Geneva Conventions by releasing tapes and pictures that demean prisoners. In other words, if you beat, torture, and shoot prisoners, you must observe the niceties by not releasing any pictures you take. That's what I like so much about America, its high moral tone in the midst of sickening horror.
John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company. He writes frequently for Yellow Times.org and other publications.
Other Recent Articles by John Chuckman
The Thing With No Brain