The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
Innocent Merriment
Wednesday, November 9th, 2005
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time--
To let the punishment fit the crime--
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!*
-- W.S. Gilbert

The Emperor of Japan in Gilbert and Sullivan’s
The Mikado had a brilliant idea:  customized punishments for every crime.  Thus charlatans pushing phony cures are condemned to have their “teeth extracted by terrified amateurs,” while pool sharks face an eternity of playing with twisted cues and elliptical balls. The offender gets his desserts, the audience is entertained, and everybody wins.

This is precisely the reasoning behind the Bush administration’s rejection of Senator McCain’s amendment to the latest military spending bill, which the Senate passed by a 90 to 9 vote last week. The amendment requires that all detainees held by the U.S. armed forces be treated in accordance with the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions.  The amendment would effectively forbid the “fucking” and “smoking” of prisoners by U.S. military personnel.  These practices are described in detail in the Human Rights Watch report
Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division,** and involve fists and boots as well as baseball bats, buckets of water, and other household implements employed in novel ways against so-called Persons Under Control, or PUCs.

Mr. Bush has threatened to veto any bill containing Senator McCain’s amendment. Vice President Cheney is lobbying legislators on a compromise that would exempt the CIA from its strictures.

Although even their fellow Republicans have expressed dismay at the Bush administration’s seeming endorsement of the torture of detainees, the administration’s position is perfectly logical.  Then White House Counsel and present Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his team laid the groundwork in a series of memos arguing, in a nutshell, that anything short of treatment resulting in organ failure or death wasn’t really torture.  And apart from the occasional slip-up, probably no more than a few dozen or so, “smoking” and “fucking” PUCs generally doesn’t cause either of those conditions.  Therefore Mr. Bush was technically correct when he averred in a recent statement that “we are not torturing.”

Still, he might have put it more expressively by quoting Gilbert.  After all, by “letting the punishment fit the crime” and thereby making “each prisoner pent/unwillingly represent/a source of innocent merriment,”  the administration kills two birds with one stone.  Detainees receive salutary and appropriate chastisement;  the PUC whose leg was broken by a baseball-bat-wielding cook of the 82nd Airborne, according to Human Rights Watch, will doubtless never loiter on street corners again.  And at the same time, members of the armed forces get to divert themselves and engage in a little healthful exercise. As an 82nd Airborne Sergeant says in the Human Rights Watch report, “in a way it was sport.”


©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2005
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