What dogs hear and what cats hear about Gitmo

Do you remember a duo of Gary Larson Far Side cartoons that took on the different way dogs and cats hear? The first cartoon published was entitled (I think) “What dogs hear.” The top panel showed what people say. With a speech balloon coming out of the person’s mouth, it was something along the lines of “That’s a good dog, Ginger. You’re daddy’s little baby, aren’t you, Ginger? Ginger is just my favorite dog.” The bottom panel, which had a thought balloon coming out of the dog’s head, showed what dogs hear: “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Ginger, blah, blah, blah.” Pretty damn funny and accurate, I always thought.

Some time later, Larson came out with the companion cartoon, which was about what cats hear. The first panel was the same, with the speech balloon coming out of the person’s mouth: “That’s a good cat, Ginger. You’re daddy’s little baby, aren’t you, Ginger? Ginger is just my favorite cat.” In the second panel, we got to see what the cat actually heard. As with the dog, it too had a thought balloon coming out of its head except this time the thought balloon was absolutely empty. I thought then, and still think now, that this was a brilliant cartoon setup.

In any event, the idea of cartoons and the idea of two groups understanding things very differently all came together for me with a recent New Yorker. This was the annual cartoon edition, and there were a few, although a very few, funny ones in it.

What captured my interest was the cartoon/article entitled “I don’t get it.” Unsurprisingly, the magazine periodically publishes cartoons where the jokes just go over the readers’ heads. The New Yorker stated that, “To make amends, we hereby endeavor to explain a few cartoons that have caused widespread consternation. We don’t want to make things too easy, though, so for each cartoon we have thrown in three red herrings.” The presentation looks like a picture, with four mutiple choice answers next to it.

One of the cartoons takes place in that familiar cartoon staple, a dungeon. A prisoner is shown hanging by the wrists from the ceiling. The guard escorts four mimes in. My guess about the meaning, based on my own feelings, is that mimes, multiple mimes yet, are the ultimate form of torture. One of the choices says pretty much the same thing: “While mimes don’t talk, they have ways of making you talk.” Okay. I can live with that.

I was pretty taken aback, however, by one of the red herring choices: “This cartoon reflects the opinion that the international monitors who visited Guantanamo Bay were little better than mimes at reporting the outrages they witnesses.” Wow!

I’m sure the New Yorker employee who wrote this snide little throwaway line wasn’t thinking of the prison guards regularly attacked, with the attacks accompanied by urine, semen and feces assaults. And I’m sure the employee wasn’t thinking of the more subtle torture that apparently takes place when prisoners get glove handled Korans; abundant, specially prepared menus to meet their religious requirements and help stave off boredom; high level health care; and access to hundreds of lawyers. Probably, the author didn’t care that these battlefield detainees — willing warriors who fought for foreign nations or causes against the United States — receive better prison care than the average American prisoner.

All of these factors are meaningless when weighed against the horrors of fake menstrual blood. Heck, that’s even worse than mimes.

I’m perfectly willing to admit (a) that Gitmo is not a nice place to be and (b) that prison guards are often brutal to those under their care. That’s the nature of prisons. I suspect, though, that guard cruelty happens with less, rather than more frequency in Gitmo than in regular prisons for two reasons: First, Gitmo is more tightly monitored than the average American prison, making abuse more difficult to sustain. Second, hiring practices have to affect outcomes. Let me explain:

American prison guards are individuals who choose to be prison guards. Out of that population, I’d bet that there are a significant number who make that choice because there is a sadistic vein in their nature and they do enjoy the idea of being able to exercise power over a captive population. The same does not hold true for the guards at Gitmo, who have chosen to be soldiers and ended up assigned as guards. Sure, there are going to be the sadistic ones mixed in there too — as there are in every population and job — but that’s random luck, not a considered career choice.

In any event, I’ve bloviated long enough here. My point is that, like dogs and cats, those on different sides of the political spectrum hear entirely different things when the noises are coming out of Gitmo, and, to the extent they hear the same things, the spin is pretty different.

I think something has to be changed at Gitmo, not because of dubious claims of prisoner abuse (where the press always believes the prisoners claims over the statements of our own American troops), but because, in a long war, holding facilities such as Gitmo become untenable. American should either try these men and formally convict them, or do something else with them. Just leaving them there is not a viable answer — but my saying that certainly shouldn’t be understood to mean that I believe Gitmo is the Marquis de Sade’s dream playhouse.

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Comments

  1. says

    I was pretty taken aback, however, by one of the red herring choices: “This cartoon reflects the opinion that the international monitors who visited Guantanamo Bay were little better than mimes at reporting the outrages they witnesses.” Wow!

    Here we go again, down the rabbit hole we go. Once more unto the breach!

    I think something has to be changed at Gitmo, not because of dubious claims of prisoner abuse (where the press always believes the prisoners claims over the statements of our own American troops), but because, in a long war, holding facilities such as Gitmo become untenable.

    Bush’s policy there is untenable because he has managed to off the Jacksonians, the Left, the lawyers, the military lawyers, and everyone else around.

    He has to set up an administrative military tribunal independent of the Supreme Court, to get these guys tried, convicted, and executed/released within weeks, not months. Or he releases all of them. Or he executes all of them. Not that many choices. But somehow Bush has found a weird compromise. Let’s keep all of them, release a few of them, have a few of them kill themselves through suicide, and let’s wait for years while the Supreme court stalls the military tribunal system. Jeez, what a quagmire.

    Bush has the power to cut the gordian knot, by backing the military against the courts or the courts against the military by releasing the prisoners. But Bush, the uniter that he is, tries to find some compromise in between, so that both sides are happy. That’s not decisive, that’s not how you lead in war. That’s not what Lincoln did and that’s not what Roosevelt did. I find it hard to believe that Bush can reinvent how to fight a war and how to treat captives, and get a success.

  2. Trimegistus says

    The “detainees” are non-uniformed combatants fighting for no flag. We should treat them in accordance with long-standing international law governing such combatants: immediate summary execution.

  3. Danny Lemieux says

    “American should either try these men and formally convict them, or do something else with them.” I’m with Trimeg on this one. Military tribunal followed by release (to their native countries) or execution. This would be fully in accordance with the Geneva Agreements.

  4. Danny Lemieux says

    After we shoot them, bury them in pig offal and spread the word far and wide. Supposedly, it worked in the Philippines under General Pershing (who was, I just discovered, highly respected by his Muslim foes).

  5. says

    Black Jack Pershing didn’t play. Oh, he did not play, for cert.

    I was watching the history channel and they gave some interesting info on Pershing. He was promoted to Flag rank past the peace time generals who had more seniority. So Pershing was facing a lot of obstruction from the peace time army, when he commanded the US dough boys in WWI. But Teddy Roosevelt really really liked Pershing, and tried to actually get Pershing promoted more. In fact, Pershing once got promoted TWO grades at one time.

    Talk about military geniuses.

    I wonder how Teddy would have treated the GitMo captives…

    The thing is. The people who you see leaking the President’s insider memos, don’t fear Presidential wrath. Regardless of what people like BigAl says about government police states. So why should our enemies fear us? Why, the Administration is a sieve and won’t even punish their own, why should our enemies fear our wrath?

    You cannot respect a leader, any leader, when his own people are trying to undermine his power. And doing so without any punishment! The terroists think to themselves. Hey, we can attack America without punishment and executions when caught. The Americans who help us, can betray American secrets without punishment and execution. I say it is open season on American women and children, my brothers in the Jihad.

    Pershing would have gone ballistic if he saw this. Good thing he is long dead

  6. says

    Shortly after Pershing’s first child, Helen Elizabeth, was born, President Roosevelt promoted Captain Pershing to Brigadier General. However, Pershing’s long years of service, his splendid record, and his achievements in the Philippines were all forgotten by critics. They also forgot that three years had passed since the President had urged Congress to remove the necessity of such promotions to reward merit. Also overlooked were the precedents for this promotion. Major Tasker H. Bliss, Captains Leonard Wood, Frederick D. Grant, Frederick Funston and Albert L. Mills had all been promoted to Brigadier General, the latter just before Pershing himself. All of these promotions were made in the considered interest of Army efficiency at a time when the service was bound by passively entrenched rank, living on the inertia of seniority. The many critics remembered only that Pershing was the son-in-law of Senator Francis E. Warren, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. “His promotion,” they declared, “was a flagrant example of pull.” In answer to such criticism, Roosevelt said, “To promote a man because he married a Senator’s daughter would be an infamy; to refuse him promotion for the same reason would be an equal infamy.”

    Bush, imitate the example of Roosevelt and you shall see the tide of victory turn indeed.

    http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/johnjose.htm

    Lots more good stuff on Pershing for the American history buff.

  7. says

    Pershing’s task was doubly difficult. Not only did he have to deny the men that the French and English needed, but he had to depend on those allies for supplies. The first divisions that arrived in France had been trained by the French, who expected this to be a permanent arrangement, and wanted the American troops to be brigaded with the French, under command of French Divisional Officers. This Pershing absolutely would not allow.

    Right. American troops under French command. That’s an idea.

    There was no American Expeditionary Force per se for Pershing to command at the time of his selection. The Regular Army had perhaps 25,000 men in 1917, and there was no divisional organization except for the hastily scratched-up 1st Division, elements of which were still landing in St. Nazaire in early July, three months after the declaration of war. There was no reserve as we know it today except the Officer’s Training Camps of Plattsburg Movement. To attend one of these camps, prior to the declaration of war, a man had to buy his own uniforms, pay for his own food and incidentals, and transport himself to and from his home. He received no pay, but he could get an Officer’s Reserve Corps commission and wear ORC in bronze on his collar. The National Guard outfits in most states were separate companies that quite possibly had never trained in regiment. A long enough time had elapsed since the Spanish-American War that politics had crept back into the selection of senior officers, taking precedence over qualifications.

    Hey, I got a bright idea. Let’s take a page from the Democrats and criticize Roosevelt for breaking the army!! Spoiled children should flee the field in war.

    General Pershing cannot be too highly commended for his attitude and actions since the war. He did not make the mistake of trying to tell the nation how it should be run, and above all, he did what few victorious generals have ever done: he stayed out of politics.

    *cough* different times.

  8. says

    It’s a bit silly to make out that every example of mistreatment amounts to torture. But some of the mistreatment in US-run camps from Gitmo to Abu Graib (in the day) possibly does.

    The terrible conditions in many US prisons should not be used as any kind of yardstick of acceptability.

    And while some of the detainees are opponents of the US, some are victims of kidnap for cash gangs who sold people to the authorities, with some fabricated story, for the reward they received. It is taking too long to work out which are which.

    But what do I know? I’m from Europe (kinda) and I’m probably contaminated with socialism or something ;-)

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