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.