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The Truth, Mainly - 02/25/2008

On beagles and attorney generals

I'm about to say some unfriendly things about waterboarding and Attorney General Michael Mukasey, so if you're a friend of his you may want to stop reading at this point.

You know what waterboarding is, don't you? It's a form of torture we use on POWs who won't tell us what we want them to tell us. It's been around since the Spanish Inquisition and it works like this:

We've got a prisoner of war and we want him to tell us things we believe would help us to beat the bad guys. If our POW is hesitant to tell us what we want to hear, we put him where he might reconsider his hesitancy: on a waterboard.

You know what a waterboard is; it's a nasty kind of teeter-totter. Back in October, the New York Times gave us this information:

"Waterboarding involves strapping a prisoner to a board, covering his face with cloth and pouring water over the cloth to produce a feeling of suffocation. Variations of the technique, designed to give a prisoner a feeling of imminent drowning, have been used for centuries."

That's reassuring, isn't it? If there were something wrong with waterboarding, surely as moral a country as the U.S. would not be playing the waterboarding game.

Here's what Attorney General Mukasey said earlier this month about the legality of waterboarding:

"Waterboarding, because it was authorized to be part of a program…cannot possibly be the subject of a Justice Department investigation….That would mean that the same department that authorized the program would now prosecute someone for taking part" in it.

(That's like saying that an English teacher can't be punished for plagiarizing because he had told his students that they could not plagiarize.)

And a week later—on Feb. 13—the Senate, by a 51-45 margin voted to ban waterboarding.

The measure, according to the Washington Post the next day, "would effectively ban the use of simulated drowning, temperature extremes and other harsh tactics that the CIA used on al- Qaeda prisoners after the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks."

Sounds good to me.

It may be because I'm claustrophobic. That means that when I get stuck in small places I go a little more looney than I normally am. Probably came from where I grew up in southwest Kansas where there are no hills, where you can see parts of eastern Colorado and a piece of the Oklahoma Panhandle from the same spot in Kansas on a clear day—which is nearly the only kind of day we had there.

The Truth, Mainly


If you ever have the occasion to pick me up in a car that has a front seat and a back seat, but only two doors, I'll probably go a little crazy and flail about in way that may end up with me kicking out the back window.

Don't worry. I'll pay for the new window and I'll never ride in your back seat again.

We once had a beagle named Ned, and he would catch me do my little claustrophobic dance. He was interested because he saw that my claustrophobia would result in an open window—and Ned liked open car windows. He'd stick his head out and get doggy slobbers all over the back quarter of the car's exterior and a considerable amount of the interior, to say nothing of the windshields of any cars that might be following us too closely.

And he thought—by whichever reckoning headstrong beagles are privy to—that riding in a car with your head out the window was far more entertaining than anything humans might do in a car speeding down the interstate at 70 mph.

But I digress. I often digress when I run up against arguments like Attorney General Mukasey makes when he says that something the Justice Department approves of cannot be over-ridden by other branches of our government.

It's a position that I suspect Ned would have agreed to—assuming that some Beagle organization got together to override any new law that infringed on any right that Beagles might decided they really, really needed.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: leonsatterfield@earthlink.net.


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