GO LONG: Poor Michael Vick. He’s in a lot of trouble. But then, he should have known better. He should have known that Americans will tolerate any degree of cruelty, no matter how pornographically depraved, when inflicted on foreign nationals of darker pigmentation, especially if they may or may not have had something to do with terrorism.
But Vick picked on dogs. And that’s something we just won’t tolerate. If Americans love anything, it’s their dogs. For those tuning in late, Vick plays quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons and is easily one of the most gifted, charismatic, and exciting athletes to play the game. But the future of Vick’s football career-and that of his $62 million contract-were put in dutch last week, when a federal prosecutor charged him with running an especially gruesome blood sport operation out of his Bad Newz Kennels, located in Virginia on land Vick happens to own. The details of the indictment are genuinely shocking and grow no less so with repetition.
Vick is accused of running pit bull gladiator matches, where the winning dog’s owner could reap up to $26,000 per fight and the loser wound up dead. (Pit bulls-better known as Staffordshire Terriers by those who insist they get a bad rap-are prized as fighting dogs because they keep battling even after their bodies go into shock from loss of blood.) Vick and his cronies have been accused of culling the least ferocious fighters from their herds. Poor performers have allegedly been electrocuted, shot, kicked, body slammed, and hung. In addition, Vick et al. have been accused of maintaining a “rape stand” in which unwilling females were strapped and controlled so they could be mounted for breeding purposes. All America, it seems, is outraged.
Naturally, I’m outraged too. After all, I am a dog. But every now and then, I wonder where all this shock and indignation was hiding when it came to the abuse and torture of foreign nationals at Abu Ghraib. What about in Gitmo? Or in those mysterious “black houses” run by the CIA’s rendition program in which suspected enemy combatants disappear and are never seen again? I know it’s quaintly naive to even ask, but aren’t we supposed to be the good guys? Sure, we were grossed out when some enterprising reporters managed to publish those photos of snarling dogs barking at pyramids of naked prisoners smeared in menstrual blood. But then we turned away.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Amnesia in the first degree.
As a culture, we quickly allowed ourselves to become conveniently numb to diabolical practices that originated during the Spanish Inquisition and are inflicted in our name. As our president and attorney general publicly repudiated the Geneva Conventions, Hollywood-that so-called bastion of enlightened liberalism-positively wallowed in torture porn, churning out a slew of high-grossing movies like Saw I, II, and III. Hey, just giving the people what they want.
Last week, President George W. Bush announced a kinder, gentler policy when it comes to interrogation of enemy combatants in his ongoing war on terror. The CIA, he said, would no longer deploy sexual humiliation as part of its inventory of enhanced interrogation techniques. This news was breathlessly reported by most of the media as a sign that the United States was moving out of the dark ages and into the 19th century. But the fine print of the president’s proclamation is hardly reassuring.
The CIA can still use aggressive interrogation tactics, and the Bush administration refuses to say what they are. Both Bush and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have refused, for example, to say whether waterboarding could be allowed under the new rules. When Alberto was once again on the hot seat this Tuesday, he informed his Senate interrogators that he wasn’t sure whether waterboarding went “beyond the bounds of human decency.” That’s hardly surprising. Vice Prez Dick Cheney once described the ordeal as a “dunk in the water.” To be fair, waterboarding doesn’t sound as bad as it actually is: Your nose is covered with plastic while you’re held down and water is poured over your head to induce the sensation of drowning. But studies show that after 14 seconds, most people will freak out to such an extent that they will say and do absolutely anything to make it stop. Navy SEALs-the toughest of the tough-used to practice waterboarding on each other, but were forced to stop because it proved so permanently destructive to those involved. The Khmer Rouge under Cambodian dictator Pol Pot were reportedly big fans of the practice. Way back in 1901, an American serviceman who engaged in waterboarding against Philippine nationalists-then fighting off an American invasion-was brought up on war crimes charges. Likewise, Japanese soldiers who deployed this approach during World War II were brought up on war crimes charges afterward. But if you read the fine print of the most recent Bush executive order, it gives complete immunity to any CIA agent brought up on charges by anyone claiming they were tortured.
If, in the meantime, American combatants can beat foreign nationals within an inch of organ failure to extract information, so be it. You can’t make omelettes, I guess, without breaking eggs. And I guess we like our omelettes almost as much as we love our dogs.
As for Michael Vick, it appears he’ll wind up being suspended with full pay pending the outcome of his legal battles. With all that free time on his hands, maybe he could go into another line of work-say enhanced intelligence extraction. Maybe he won’t make the millions he’s making on the football field, but I understand the money’s still good. And no one will be too outraged by anything he does in our name. Because where American compassion is concerned, one thing is obvious: On any given Sunday, dogs will always trump wogs.