I had my first "torture" dream the other night. Hardly surprising, given all of the hullabaloo surrounding the recent release of the long-anticipated U.S. Senate torture report. In the dream, I am the torturer (or for those who prefer euphemisms, enhanced interrogator). Dick Cheney is my subject. My name in the dream is Grayson Swigert.
The dream is set in a small, nondescript room with two windows, both of which are painted black. "COBALT" is spray-painted on one of the walls in large letters. A table sits in the middle of the room and there is some food on the table—hummus, a bowl of pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins. Also on the table: a blender, a metal bucket, an old-fashioned six-shooter pistol, a can of insects, a five-gallon container of water, some plastic medical tubes, a blowtorch and a binder with "Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions" printed on the spine. There is a bookshelf in the room containing titles with names I recall as Vlad the Impaler, Jack the Ripper, Tomas de Torquemada, Sir Thomas More, Saddam Hussein and John Yoo.
Dick is sitting in a stiff-backed chair wearing only diapers and his glasses. His face is set even more grimly than usual, but when he sees the food it brightens up considerably. He explains that he never really liked hummus until recently, thinking of it as "liberal" food. Lately, though, his daughter Liz had been getting him into it and he'd been able to put aside his preconceptions.
"Is that red pepper hummus?" asks Dick.
"No, it's plain," I say. "We serve it in an unconventional manner however. Who knows, maybe you're into that sort of thing."
"Well, I like the sound of that!" Dick says. "Always up for new culinary ideas."
"You'd have to be a freak to like it the way we serve it," I explain. "You wouldn't be able to wear your diaper either," I add, cryptically, giving him a sideways glance.
Dick frowns and then looks puzzled. He notices the blender, the spaghetti, the raisins and the tubes. His eyes begin to widen in recognition. Dick wants no part of this and seeks to change the topic now. I scroll through my song list and select the theme song from Sesame Street. "Sunny day/Sweeping the clouds away/On my way to where the air is sweet..."
"Well I'm not hungry anyway. What am I doing here? Where am I?" Dick demands. "I was just about to drink a sixer and go out duck hunting."
"Don't be coy, Dick. Look around you. You’re at a ‘black site’ and you're here for your enhanced interrogation," I explain.
"You mean you're gonna torture me?" asks Dick, the alarm rising up in his voice.
"Now, Dick," I say. "Let's not get indelicate here. Torture is what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3000 Americans on 9/11. Remember? We need some information from you and we’ll just be drawing from an expanded set of techniques for extracting that information. Nothing to get disturbed about, you know. It's not like you will be experiencing organ failure or anything along those lines."
Dick's mind is working hard now, attempting to process the irony of the situation. I can see it on his face. It's that “hunter becomes the hunted” look. Dick is finding no consolation in the organ failure bit. I switch the music to the Barney theme, "I Love You."
"Barney is a dinosaur from our imagination/And when he's tall he's what we call a dinosaur sensation..."
"Any information I give you will be unreliable," snarls Dick. "I'll just be saying it to stop the pain. Career interrogators know it doesn't work."
"Strange to be hearing you say that, Big Time," I reply. "You're playing a different tune altogether now. Anyway, all we want is confessions. Do you remember when Jesse Ventura said that if he had a waterboard, one hour and Dick Cheney, he'd have you confessing to the Sharon Tate murders? Well guess what? We're going to put that one to the test right here tonight Dick, if you make it as far as the waterboarding, that is. By the way, don't you remember saying enhanced interrogation yielded 'phenomenal' results and that bin Laden wouldn’t have been killed without it? Enough of this 'unreliable info' nonsense. You're already on record."
"My thinking on the matter has since evolved," Dick says.
This answer offends me. There’s a box on the table and I reach inside it and pull out a hairshirt. I hand it to Dick Cheney and tell him to put it on.
"This will make to feel closer to God, Dick," I say. "Sir Thomas More, the Man For All Seasons himself, used hairshirts for this purpose. More used to dabble in the "T word" too, if you catch my drift. He also enjoyed burning heretics at the stake. Your kind of guy, right Dick? And I am certain he would like the cut of your jib too."
I nudge Dick playfully with my elbow and wink exaggeratedly at him a few times, but he won't play. "Well, it doesn't look like I'm going to Utopia here," Dick says, in a very feeble attempt at wit. He slips on the hairshirt and grimaces. "You're putting me in diapers and a hairshirt for this torture?" he asks.
"Torture is what the 9/11 terrorists did," I tell him. "The American media doesn't use that word to describe enhanced interrogation and I won't allow you to either. Try 'EIT.' It's much more civilized. As for the diapers, don't tell me you're not familiar with the 'prolonged diapering technique' that’s allowed under the CIA enhanced interrogation guidelines. I'm sure they mentioned it in all those CIA briefings you got. It's a way for me to gain control of you by robbing you of your last shred of dignity. As for the hairshirt, my handlers don't know about this one. Think of it as a personal touch, if you will. My little 'calling card.'"
I put a new song on. This time it's Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady."
"May I have your attention please?/May I have your attention please?/Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?"
"Are you the real Slim Shady, Dick?" I ask him. "And think twice before you answer, because we have ways, you know, of getting the truth. We could play a game of Russian roulette, for example, with you being the only shooter of course. Everyone knows bad things happen when you have a gun in your hand, right?"
I walk over to the table and grab the pistol, spinning the chamber and grinning madly as I walk back to Dick. "No I am not Slim Shady." Dick sneers. "And what's with all this music? Barney I can handle, up to a point at least, but this rap crap stinks."
“Why Dick, you surprise me!" I say. "All of today's tunes are on the approved enhanced interrogation song list. The CIA's greatest hits! You don't recognize them? They were chosen and are played so as to induce a feeling of hopelessness. The technical name for it is 'sound disorientation technique.' Just think how you'd feel if you had to listen to Eminem all day and all night, Dick. You'd probably feel like shooting someone in the face I bet. So once more, Dick, are you the real Slim Shady?"
Dick shakes his head. I pick up the metal bucket from the table and place it in front of his face. There’s a rat inside, and Dick freezes in fear. "Meet your new little friend, Dick. His name is Ben, and he's very, very hungry," I say, firing up the blowtorch. "You remember this little trick from Game of Thrones, don't you?"
I move the bucket toward his midriff, and judging by Dick's body language, I'm pretty sure he saw the episode I was referring to. The rat torture is a gem though—kind of an oldie but goodie to a guy like Dick who longs for the days before torture got sissified. The look on his face says he may need a diaper change soon.
"So once again, Dick, are you the real Slim Shady?" I ask.
"Yes, yes I am the real Slim Shady!" Dick blurts out. "Hey, I've got some Halliburton stock I can offer you. We can work this out."
"Well please stand up, please stand up," I say in my best Slim Shady imitation, and as he starts moving to his feet I break into a hearty belly laugh.
"Oh, I was just kidding, Dick! You can sit back down," I say, returning the bucket to the table. That's just some standard enhanced interrogator humor for you. We use it to keep things light. We're really a bunch of cut-ups at heart."
Dick appears equally relieved and annoyed. "You call yourself an American and you’re about to tor.... I mean enhance interrogate me?" he asks.
"When Americans do this, they're patriots. Your protégé, George W. said this himself," I patiently explain.
Dick reaches over to the table and grabs the binder. Opening it up, he finds the relevant passage and begins reading it. "The Geneva Convention expressly forbids outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." He glares at me. Backhanding the binder out of his hand viciously, I move my face to within an inch of his and scream, "The Geneva Convention is outdated. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—you know, 'Fredo'?—explained this long ago. You are so forgetful, Richard, though I'm sure it's not because your conscience is robbing you of your needed sleep."
Dick has a faraway look on his face now, probably daydreaming about being on the south fork of the Snake with a fly rod and a serious whiskey buzz on—anything to forget that he's at a "black site." My colleague, Hammond Dunbar, walks in the room and approaches Dick. Dunbar is dressed sharply in dark trousers, a crisp white shirt and a tie. He carries himself in a confident, jaunty manner. "Hey Dick," Dunbar says, slapping him hard and square on the face. "We’ve now reached the aggressive portion of the interrogation and it's gonna be some fun, buddy! By the way, have you ever listened to K Billy's Super Sounds of the 70's? That's my favorite."
Dunbar changes the music to Stealer Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" and starts dancing around the room, singing along a little too. "Well I don't know why I came here tonight, I got the feeling that something ain't right..." He’s enjoying himself, obviously, sliding into a relaxed groove with his dancing, maintaining eye contact with Dick. There’s a barber's straight razor in his hand that he pulled out of his sock. Dunbar lays a couple of spin moves on Dick, and the grin on his face now is positively demonic. This is a performance!
"Richard 'Dick' Cheney, did you commit the murders of actress Sharon Tate, Wojciech Frykowski and his partner—the coffee bean heiress Abigail Folger—together with celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring on the evening of August 9, 1969 in the city of Los Angeles?" Hammond Dunbar asks Dick Cheney, in a basso profundo, stentorian tone. Dunbar is really hamming it up, clearly enjoying himself. Yet it’s obvious he means business. Dick doesn’t know what to say. He stares at Dunbar with a quizzical look on his face. Hammond reaches out and flicks Dick's ear a couple of times with the back of the straight razor. Dick flinches.
"Did you commit the murder of Sharon Tate and three of her friends on that summer evening in L.A., Dick?" Dunbar inquires again. Dick is still hesitating, being the tough guy. Dunbar turns the razor around so the business edge rests on top of Dick's ear. "And by the way, what is your favorite Vincent van Gogh painting? I know everyone says 'Starry Night' but personally I prefer 'Cafe Terrace At Night', don't you?"
"Yes, I did it! I committed those murders!" Dick shouts. "I'm a sociopath," he blurts out. "And a pathological liar. Plus I killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the next evening."
Dunbar smiles broadly. "Well that second part was a bonus!" he says. "People know about the lying sociopath, but the LaBianca murders too? Pure gold, Dicky! And you setting Charlie Manson up to take the fall? You're an evil genius, no doubt about it. Oh, and one more thing, Dick. Looks like ol’ Jesse 'The Body' Ventura was right, no?"
Dick is slumped forward in his chair now, glassy-eyed. He’s mumbling, the words barely discernable. His hands are balled up in fistic rage and he's pounding them on the chair. He's saying, "I'd do it again in a minute, I'd do it again in a minute, I'd do it again in a minute..."
I'm starting to gradually wake up now, and as the dream fades into reality, Dunbar is dancing once again, like he's the Gene Kelly of the CIA. He's still singing too, finishing the song in a fine singing voice, his eyes locked on Dick the entire time:
"Yes, I'm stuck in the middle with you,/And I'm wondering what it is I should do/It's so hard to keep this smile from my face,/Losing control, and I'm all over the place/Clowns to left of me, jokers to the right,/Here I am, stuck in the middle with you."
—Follow Chris Beck on Twitter: @SubBeck