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Tormenters in Chief

For presidents, torture is something of an acquired taste.



People shouldn’t be too surprised at the Bush administration’s enthusiastic endorsement of torture: thumbs up, way up, for thumbscrews. After all, through the years, the White House has had many notable associations with torture.

Eisenhower was famous for torturing helpless golf balls; Kennedy was known to torture poor Jackie by regularly ducking out to the White House pool to receive physical therapy from well-toned water girls; LBJ lifted squealing beagles by the ears; Nixon tortured Kissinger with latenight drunken phone calls; Carter terrorized his staff by hunting down every last grammar mistake in White House memos.

Reagan tortured foreign dignitaries with his interminable stories about his Hollywood days, often featuring afternoon trysts with B-movie starlets; George H.W. Bush drove Barbara to drink by insisting she help him pick out boat shoes for weekend sailing at Kennebunkport; Clinton showed no mercy in all-night torture sessions in which he forced underlings to play game after game of hearts while he bored them to death with minute analysis of the Norwegian Navigational and Maritime Tariff Treaty of 1923.

Which brings us to Dubya. His predecessors were no slouches in the torture department, but our lovable goofball, it must be admitted, took torture to new levels. His torture of the language was unsurpassed, but most citizens are unaware of the degree to which he threw himself into other forms of torture. Recent White House memos paint a picture of a chief executive dedicated to bringing torture out of the closet.

Dedication is not the first thing that comes to mind when assessing the effort Mr. Bush put into discharging his duties of office. He was widely ridiculed, for instance, when he nearly choked to death on a pretzel while watching the Super Bowl in the early years of his tenure. The new White House torture memos cast an entirely new light on the pretzel fiasco. On page 467, subsection 34A of Test Results of Torture Innovation, we read that our former president was subjecting himself to a form of torture devised in the waning days of the Third Reich.

Known as pretzelfressing, this form of torture involved stuffing a subject’s mouth with heavily salted pretzels until he either experienced the sensation of choking to death or suddenly developed the urge to gulp a stein of lager. Other White House documents reveal that Mr. Bush thought it incumbent upon himself to undergo any form of torture before inflicting it on random Iraqis to make them confess to working for al-Qaeda, thus establishing that Iraq was responsible for flying hijacked planes into the World Trade Center so we could destroy that nation.

Mr. Bush apparently dismissed concerns of overly sensitive types who regarded things like waterboarding and sleep deprivation as torture.

“Shee-it,” Mr. Bush is quoted as saying, “in Skull ’n’ Bones up at Yale, water torture was not only our favorite form of hazing, we substituted gallons of cheap gin when we did it to ourselves on weekends and several nights during the week. As for sleep deprivation, when I was an all-purpose screw-up for 20 years out of college, I’d often be up all night on drinking binges. ’Course, I’d pass out in some pretty weird places, that’s for sure.”

As for being confined to close quarters with various species of insects, which was another form of approved torture, Mr. Bush said it was easy getting used to having insects crawl all over you. “I’d wake up outside after Laura kicked me outa the house with all sorts of creepy crawlers on my face, in my nose, in my ears, and especially down in my drawers.”

Former Vice President Cheney comes in for special praise in the torture memos for his willingness to be, like Mr. Bush, a torture guinea pig. Unfortunately, Mr. Cheney spent most of his time during the Bush administration hooked up to a heart-lung machine.

Doctors were able to keep him alive (sort of), though, for long stretches, his brain was deprived of oxygen, which accounts for his confused rantings the past few weeks on Fox News. Not even the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation performed on Cheney by Sean Hannity, who is blessed with abundant quantities of hot air, is able to get Mr. Vice’s brain operating at even sub-optimal levels.

Thanks to Bush and Cheney, a wide array of torture techniques are now available to get anyone—from sullen teenagers to cheating spouses—to confess to anything. Though Mr. Cheney won’t live to see it, the future for torture is brighter than ever.

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