November 9, 2001

Internment for Beginners, and a Couple More Reasons Why My Torso Doth Ever Swell with National Pride

By Warren Pease

Ve haff vays. . .
A battle of wills has led terrorism investigators to ponder using truth serum to break the silence of four detained men, according to unidentified FBI officials.

But there's little evidence that a truth serum - presumably containing compounds such as sodium Pentothal - would work.

As first reported in the Washington Post, unidentified FBI officials say approved methods of coercion - such as promises of leniency - have failed to get any of the four detainees to cooperate with investigators. The men are among more than 1,000 people being held in detention centers nationwide for questioning related to the Sept. 11 attacks. (The preceding three paragraphs verbatim from the San Francisco Chronicle).

We can be fairly certain that Ashcroft's working up a couple of modest proposals as we speak. Maybe he'll have them put in the box with Sipowicz and he'll have full confessions by the next commercial break.

Better yet, do a "Clockwork Orange" on them. Inject them with methamphetamines, prop their eyelids open and make them watch those Fox promos for Ally McBeal, the Tick and Family Guy 24 - 7 for the next two weeks. Those who haven't been reduced to miasmic slime will spill their guts faster than a teetotaler on prom night.

But, since the criminally incurious mainstream media seem reluctant to press the issue, perhaps citizens need to pester our ludicrous AG and his employees in the FBI about a couple of tiny procedural details. Like what about those "more than 1,000 people" held in detention centers for "questioning." Could we maybe, possibly, kinda sorta get a few names here? Where are they being held? Is a "detention center" the same as a jail?

And under what statutes are they being held? Have they been charged with anything? Do they get legal representation? Is this the fine new Patriot Act at work? Is the Office of Homeland Security involved? And do its staffers really wear silver lightning bolts on their collars and carry riding crops and have suppurating dueling scars very close to their left eyes like all the really cool Prussians did?

Is it now necessary for all US reporters to lay down their interview pads and simply reprint administration news releases? Is all actual reporting now the exclusive province of the international press? And if so, why in hell would anyone watch CNN, unless they're looking for pure entertainment, in which case we're right back to The Tick.

Are There Sharks in the Water?
And while we're on the subject of CNN, I just recalled the night they besmirched their corporate trousers so foully that no amount of laundering can ever quite eradicate the stench.

It was summer 1996 and TWA Flight 800 had gone down into the Atlantic off Long Island. I returned home after the initial flurry of facts, rumors and insane conjectures and flipped on CNN. They're exceptionally good at covering breaking news and I figured how bad can they screw this one up?

Televised disasters run a predictable course. There's the period immediately following the event in which all hell breaks loose and everything, no matter how weird, makes its way onto the airwaves. Then there's the scramble to get as many sources as possible to confirm or deny all the weird stuff, the experts weigh in to give the official story credibility, and then there's the endless update and recap loop.

It was during the latter phase, just as I was about to turn the TV off for the night, that the natty anchor dude popped "the question." He was on the line with a Coast Guard spokesperson who was describing the difficulty of conducting a night search in choppy seas. The anchor listened for a couple of seconds to the producer's voice in his earpiece. Even this bubble-brained "on air personality" seemed to get a little queasy. But, trooper that he was, he recovered to ask the Coast Guard guy, "Are there sharks in those waters?" Hmmm.

I suppose CNN's thinking went something like this: You've got the window seat in row 22 on the far left side of the plane. You're sitting there a few minutes after take-off, maybe reading the Times or Newsweek, waiting for the drink cart, and all of a sudden the plane simply disintegrates around you. There's a thunderous fireball, the heat's unbearable, your hair and most of your clothes are burned right off. But seconds later, as unimaginably hellish chaos reigns, you discover that somehow you're still alive. But wait. . .

You're strapped into your seat and now you're free-falling 18,000 feet into the Atlantic. You wish you'd died in the explosion. You have plenty of time to think about the coming crash. Time attenuates; the fall takes years. Then splat - everything goes black. But wait. . .

You come to after who knows how long and discover that, just like they always said, your seat cushion actually doubles as a floatation device and you're rising rapidly. You break the surface like a cork, gasp and wheeze and cough, spit up a bunch of seawater. It's black as a coal mine; you're rolling with the swells. You take a quick inventory. Everything hurts like hell, the burns are excruciating, but all parts seem intact. The water's pretty cold, but the coastal Atlantic in summer isn't the North Sea.

So you've survived a massive explosion and catastrophic airframe failure, an 18,000-foot plunge with no parachute, near-drowning in the Atlantic, and now you're bobbing up and down wondering how on earth you could possibly have gotten away with this. Thoughts of immortality and the nature of death quickly give way to thoughts of rescue. Briefly riding the top of a swell, you see some lights way off in the distance. Possibly the shoreline, maybe some boats. Somebody's got to have seen the explosion and called 911. Maybe the Coast Guard has search craft out already.

At worst, you'll have to survive a soggy, horribly painful night and, come morning, they'll have planes and helicopters and boats looking everywhere and you'll be found. You'll be a hero. The story's going to be worth a fortune. The tabloid and book rights alone - maybe a made-for-TV movie, guest spots on Letterman and Leno, throwing out the first ball at Yankee Stadium. But wait. . .

Isn't this sort of near where they filmed "Jaws?"

And this just in: At least three people were arrested during a demonstration Sunday in front of CNN headquarters in Atlanta for protesting the fraud the network perpetrates on the public by calling itself a news organization. The protesters were chanting "CNN, half the news, all the time," which seems to be giving the network far too much credit.

Ari Betrays His Ancestors
Ari Fleischer made his bones when he had a highly publicized hissy fit over cases of alleged vandalism in a couple of White House offices allegedly perpetrated by outgoing members of the Clinton administration. That the stories proved false, the vandalism nonexistent and the alleged perpetrators blameless should have branded Ari as a less than authoritative source on anything more nuanced than in which direction the sun rises.

Yet the White House press corpse continues to lap it up, creating its daily quota of ritualized pap, swill and drivel about the masterful ways in which the world's dumbest chief exec has come up with the world's smartest plan for ridding the globe of the nastiest of evil-doers and all the evil they do, unless they don't.

And even though more than a month has passed since his infamous statements about how Americans need to "watch what they say, watch what they do," it's still weird, discordant and ominous to watch him wholeheartedly defend practices like the Justice Department's pogrom against Arab-Americans. To be blunt, a man named Ari Fleischer should have something better to do with his life than front for fascism.

Maybe he's a textbook example of what National Humanities Medal winner Earl Shorris identifies as the Jewish neoconservative movement, a group of social and economic Darwinists that disdains humanist values like social justice and mercy in favor of pure market-driven solutions. Unlike previous generations, "shame for them is to be a poor and humble people and to behave accordingly," Shorris writes in a recent piece (The Baffler, Number Fourteen).

Or maybe Ari is more afraid of Arabs than Nazis. That would help explain, though hardly excuse, a grandson of the Holocaust shilling for a fascist regime.

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