Monday, January 5, 2009
Pvt. Cheney's War
Jesus teaches we should love everybody, but I see Dick Cheney and I still can’t pull it off. Cheney’s been saying goodbye lately and it always reminds me about what I detest in the man. He’s an arrogant bully. He’s a war monger who enjoyed five deferments to dodge duty in Vietnam. He’s a dour and intolerant moralist with gay offspring and two DUIs under his belt.
Still, I believe in Jesus and His teachings so last year I tried to imagine a side of Cheney that would explain it all. I wrote the following story about how a spy nicknamed “Curveball” sold Cheney on the war in Iraq (true) and how a pot-smoking pacifist named “Screwball” was there with him when he went to fight it (preposterous fantasy).
I pitched the story all around and it went no where. Still, It thought it was a fun comic-book sort of piece that never got the attention it deserved. But what the hell do I know? It’s currently residing in “The Orphanage” section of www.chrisrodell.com and on the story page at www.RedRoom.com.
But anytime I’m asked to speak to students, one of them invariably charms me by saying something flattering about my story of Pvt. Cheney’s War.
Anyway, I’m running it here as we bid Cheney adieu and I can look forward to the day he dies where I’ll enjoy a good smoke, a sip of bourbon and do a toast to the heroic shadow Cheney I’d like to believe is in there someplace.
Here’s the story. It’s about 3,400 words long so any readers game enough had better start guzzling some coffee.
“Curveball” sold Cheney on Iraq War; “Screwball” was there when he went to fight it
Thoughtful students of military history consider it one of the all-time great “what-ifs:” What if Dick Cheney had, instead of seeking and receiving five Vietnam draft deferments, volunteered to fight and used all his apparent courage, wiles and soldierly savvy to battle in the rice paddies and jungles of Southeast Asia?
This isn’t mere speculative horse play like, “What if Adolph Hitler had developed the first atom bomb?” No, because we all know what would have happened had Cheney fought.
Clearly, Cheney would have kicked ass. He single-handedly could have whipped enemy armies into submission. Entire cultures would have shifted and words like Woodstock and Watergate would never have acquired their touchstone historical significance.
Think about it. If Cheney the politician ever deployed to soldierly pursuits the same tactics, drive and martial bearing he’s used as George W. Bush’s vice-president, we would have witnessed the sort of warrior whose career would have reshaped national histories. The name Cheney would today rank up there with Napoleon and Patton.
How do we know this?
Because, after exhaustive research and carefully leaked intelligence, it can now be revealed that Dick Cheney, the uber-soldier, has finally answered the call. An unimpeachable source reveals why Cheney’s been spotted dozing off during cabinet meetings. You’d be tired too if you were as active as Cheney’s been.
The source is code named “Screwball.”
This is his story.
SCREWBALL: “I was protesting at an Army recruitment center in 2003 when this dark SUV pulled up and this unassuming man gets out and looked me right in the eye. I lowered my “NO BLOOD FOR OIL!” sign and said, “Aren’t you . . ?” He put one finger over his lips and gave a sly grin. I never figured this rumpled old man I’d spent so many hours deriding as an out-of-touch bumbler could be so instantly electrifying. His eyes burned with a sense of mission and purpose. He walked to the door of the recruitment center and pulled it open. He turned around and froze me with that crooked, disarming smile I’d come to know so well over the next 30 months of hell and camaraderie. ‘You comin’?’ he asked. I still don’t know what made me do it, but I set my sign in the trash can and followed him inside. It would be too much to call the pull he exerted as messianic, but my snooping landlady had found out about the pot farm in the basement and I’d be leaving town the next day one way or another. I figured, ‘What the hell?’”
Screwball said “the old man” and he went through an accelerated basic training regimen that left a legacy of legends. His first night there he beat the camp arm wrestling champ with his left hand, and the runner-up with his right. Then he simultaneously slammed them both. When a hulking drill instructor ridiculed the idea of 65-year-old man running five kilometers with a 40-pound pack on his back, Cheney picked up the 240-pound drill instructor up, threw him over his back, and ran 10 clicks with the sergeant screaming the whole way. The daily exertions tested his pacemaker so he asked that a Jeep and some jumper cables be kept handy. When the device gave out, night or day, Cheney would run to the Jeep, grab the jumper cables and give himself a 300-volt pick-me-up.
“I’ll never forget the sight of him glowing out there on that obstacle course at midnight, ‘Working off the wattage,’ he called it,” Screwball said. “But, for me, the best was sitting around the campfire, exhausted, when he’d pull out that beat up old guitar of his and play Bob Dylan protest songs. When one grunt asked him if he thought playing these pacifist old hippie songs wasn’t sort of unpatriotic, Cheney just smiled and said, ‘The constitution we’re fighting to defend guarantees Mr. Dylan the same right to compose his sentiments as it does me to sing them off-key.’ I remember looking around that circle when he was singing, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and thinking ‘There are sides to this man no one’s ever seen.’ But it wasn’t all serious. Cheney was nicknamed ‘The Blue Darter’ because no one had ever seen anyone light farts the way he could. Talk about your WMD!
“One night after he’d put the guitar away and we were just sitting there sipping our beers, I asked why he was doing all this and how on earth he’d planned on keeping it secret. He just sort of sighed and said, ‘I figured to win the Global War on Terror, my country needed men like me out there on the front lines. Then he gave this world-weary little smile and said, “And, son, secrets are what I do best.’ Little did I know how honest he was being.”
Within mere months of their deployment, Pvt. Cheney and Screwball had become relied upon by commanders to complete the high-risk missions that made battle-hardened veterans compose their final thoughts and pin them to their pillows in case they didn’t make it back. It was after one of these that Cheney unwittingly insinuated himself into the Abu Ghraib scandal.
“We’d been in a pitched battle with this nasty little nest of Ramadi insurgents,” Screwball said. “They’d wounded two of our men, including our translator. We were pinned down, getting low on ammo, and Cheney thought it was time to bluff. I tell you, the man could make a nice living playing poker. He gave himself a quick jolt from the Jeep then stood up. Miraculously, the hail of hellfire fell silent as he emerged from behind the barricades. Stone-faced and in flawless Arabic, he yelled, ‘Now, you men don’t want to die and I don’t want to kill you. I’m coming up and we’re going to talk about how we can resolve this without any more bloodshed.’
“It was the bravest thing I ever saw. His pacemaker was detonating IEDs with every resolute step, but he never flinched. Something about his stride and his gaze told the insurgents they were about to deal with a man of honor. One of them set down his rifle and came out. Soon, he gestured for the other men to come out, and one-by-one 15 of them did, including one young boy, a noncombatant, who just wanted to hand some sweets to this brave American who’d single-handedly ended the gunfire on his street so he could go back to his studies. Touched, Cheney pulled a balloon from his vest, inflated it with one mighty gust and with the quick efficiency of a crisp salute, he twisted it into a little purple poodle for the grateful youth.
“One of our guys rushed to secure their wrists behind their back, but Cheney held up a hand and said, ‘That won’t be necessary. I’ve assured these men they’ll be taken into custody and given a fair hearing. Some will certainly be detained, but I think most will be allowed to return to their families after hearing a rather persuasive pitch from an impartial Iraqi police recruiter. I understand there’s a justice center nearby. I’ve asked one of them to drive us there. The place is called Abu Ghraib. I read about it during months of thoughtful study I gave before, with heavy heart, I decided war was our only option. Abu Ghraib’s a place where that misguided tyrant Saddam Hussein used to actually torture prisoners. Now, the Coalition of the Willing is taking what Abu Ghraib meant and standing it on its head.’”
The men arrived at the prison and Cheney turned them in for routine processing. Cheney took the opportunity to shave off a two-week growth of snow white beard that, combined with his usual mirthful demeanor, had led the men to affectionately start calling him “Santa Claus” and with a playful tease, “St. Dickolas.”
The shorn beard wouldn’t be the only dramatic alteration in Cheney’s appearance. A crimson tint flushed across his face as he entered the interrogation room. “His” prisoners were naked and stacked in a human pyramid.
“I want to know who ordered this!” he hollered. “This is not they way the United States of America treats its prisoners. If Donald Rumsfeld ever hears about this, he’ll be furious!”
He ordered all the guards to gather and then turned to assist the naked prisoners as they awkwardly regrouped. In quiet Arabic, he repeatedly apologized as he led the men to the officer’s lounge where he handed each a bath towel, along with a solemn vow assuring that he personally would see that their dignity would be respected henceforth. To a young soldier, he said, “Get these men a hot meal, some new clothes and give them this.”
It was a dog-eared copy of the Koran.
“But, sir --”
“Yes, it’s my Koran, and no I don’t want it back. I want you to have it, soldier, after they’ve finished with it. I think it’ll help shed some light on the misunderstandings we’re having over our differences between our two great religions. I won’t be needing it as I’ve committed most of it to memory. I suggest you do the same. Now, can I count on you, son, to give these men a fresh perspective on what it means to be an American prisoner?”
“Yes, sir! Sir!”
“I know I can.”
With that Cheney, turned and walked ramrod straight to address the guards. He began in a quiet voice.
“I don’t know how long this abuse has been going on, but I know this: It ends here,” his finger tapped the table with each word for emphasis. “You have to understand that what happens here could affect our men and women who are subsequently held captive. It’s as simple as the Golden Rule. You shouldn’t consider yourselves jailers. Rather you should think of yourselves as ambassadors for freedom. If you want to build a naked pyramid, lead by example. The prisoners may see you, shall we say, letting your guard down, and want to join in the fun.”
With this little joke, Cheney deftly broke the tension. He asked if anyone had any questions. One soldier tentatively raised her hand and Cheney gave her a nod.
“Sir, pictures have been taken. Pictures of the prisoners in compromising positions. Lots of them. Should we have them destroyed?”
Cheney slowly shook his head with weary resignation. He turned to the chalkboard and began writing. “This is the number of Seymour Hersh. He’s a respected journalist at The New Yorker magazine. Anyone with pictures of these degrading actions should call Mr. Hersh and let him decide how to handle this story. Remember, nothing sanitizes like a free press.”
Cheney walked out the door and was surprised to see his “captives” waiting to greet him. “They wanted to thank him,” Screwball said. “They all shook his hand. One of them asked if they could have a picture taken with him. He laughed and said he didn’t think that was a good idea. But they looked so disappointed. We were running late already for our next mission, but he told me to have a seat. He went to his pack and pulled out a pad, a pencil and a collapsible easel. He began to scribble furiously, looking back and forth between the men and the paper. He was done in a jiffy. When he showed it, the whole room erupted in laughter. He’d drawn a pyramid with him and all the prisoners. It was from the rear perspective with all the men smiling and looking over their shoulders. It was this big stack of olive-shaded rear ends and one big ol’ white one at the top. In the picture, each of the men were looking back over their shoulders and the faces were incredibly detailed. And right at the top, Dick had drawn himself. He tore it out, handed it over and left the room to cheers.”
Cheney’s warning about Abu Ghraib backlash proved tragically prophetic when he and Screwball’s luck ran out during a high-risk dead end mission south of Fallujah.
“The day started out like any other, with us waking up to the smells and sounds of Dick starting the day. No matter what had happened during the previous night, Cheney was always up first to make coffee, help with breakfast, and spend the quiet time composing the dirty, personalized limericks he used to recite from memory about men in the unit. No one escaped his friendly needling. We’d drag ourselves out of bed, bone-tired, and the site of him standing there in his apron with that little bemused smirk on his face, so tickled with himself that he’d managed to find another multi-syllabic rhyme for the F-word, would always perk us right up. Anybody who saw his daily regimen in Iraq would never begrudge him a couple quick winks during cabinet meetings back in Washington.”
Screwball said the mission was given to Private Cheney after a group of Army Rangers deemed it “too risky.” Cheney was a private, true, but the commanding officers all deferred to him, not because he was vice president, but because he’d earned it their respect with cool-headed battlefield heroics. Cheney had no fear of death. Screwball said contingency plans had been made that if were ever KIAd, his body would be transferred to a private ranch in Texas where an unfortunate hunting “accident” would be arranged. Attorney Harry Whittington had patriotically volunteered to be shot in the face by Cheney in 2006 to add eventual plausibility to just such a scenario.
That day’s mission had the distinct possibility of setting those macabre plans in motion.
Cheney and Screwball were to infiltrate a guard unit at a Fallujah mosque where he was supposed to snip some beard hairs off an influential cleric for DNA testing to verify whether or not he was, as intelligence maintained, the illegitimate love child of Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir, a revelation that had the potential of tilting the Middle East on its head.
“Lots of guys said it was nuts, a suicide mission, but Cheney hushed the room when he said, ‘The men and women who came up with this intelligence are clear-headed professionals. They wouldn’t mislead us on something as relevant as this. And if they tell us something is so, we should take them at their word. Where would this country be if it questioned the veracity of its intelligence communities?’” Screwball recalled him saying.
“I was nervous as all get-out that day and Cheney -- the guy’s so sensitive -- picked right up on it,” Screwball said. “Right before we reached the drop zone, he raised a gentle hand to give my cheek a fatherly pat. He told me everything was going to be fine and that we had the angels on our side. Then, his expression changed to one of cockeyed curiosity. He reached up behind my ear and pulled out a silver dollar. The ol’ son of a gun was always practicing his sleight of hand magic. I tucked the dollar in my vest pocket and then followed him out of the plane and into the darkness and the danger.”
For a mission so fraught with peril, everything went eerily smoothly until, according to classified documents, Cheney pulled out some scissors and approached the sleeping cleric in his bed. “I was watching the door,” Screwball said. “Cheney reached out and tugged at the cleric’s beard to cut a swath off for testing. Just then the holy man shifted in the bed and the tug on his beard woke him. He looked up in Cheney’s eyes and, as if in a dream, smiled peacefully. Cheney smiled back. So the cleric reached up and gave Cheney’s beard a playful tug. Of course, the cleric instantly recognized him the second the sham beard came off. His eyes practically shot out of his head and he started screaming ‘Cheney! Cheney! It is Cheney!’”
Screwball said a swarm of guards raced in, grabbed Cheney, and began firing in his direction. Two shots struck him in the chest. When the smoke had cleared, the cleric leaned over to taunt Cheney. “See, we have killed your friend.” Cheney smiled and said, “I don’t think so.” He bent down toward the supine Screwball and felt in his chest. He pulled out a twice-dented silver dollar.
“He winked at me and said, ‘I told you the angels would be watching out for us.’”
The men and their gear were taken for what they were told would be “enhanced interrogation” methods. They were strapped to cold metal tables in a cinder block room illuminated by a single bulb swaying from the ceiling.
“But there would be no interrogation,” Screwball said. “There was only torture. I lay there helpless as they put a burlap sack over Cheney’s head. They told him he’d be free to go if he’d renounce the imperialist war and the man they called, ‘The donkey Bush.’ He knew what was coming. That’s when I was sure Dick Cheney wasn’t leaving that room alive.”
The prisoner’s head was tilted backwards off the table. A hose was brought in, hooked up, turned on and adjusted. Screwball felt a chill as a rope of cold water splashed up on his bare leg.
“Anybody who says waterboarding isn’t torture should have to watch it being done to someone they love the way I love Dick Cheney. It tore at my heart. It went on for what seemed an eternity. They just kept pouring the cold water on his face over and over. If I could have broken free from my bonds, I’d have killed those four men with my bare hands. Then through his gurgling, we could hear him forming words.”
Was he ready to talk? His interrogator pulled off the burlap sack and asked, “What are you saying?”
“His face was blue and he murmured some barely audible words. His interrogator leaned in and snapped at him to speak up. It was a whisper too low for me and the other men to hear. But a profound change had come over this vicious man’s face. He stood up, shook his head, and said, ‘He’s saying, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’”
Screwball said the man said he’d heard those words before. Who’d said them, he demanded.
“Jesus Christ,” Cheney coughed.
The men gasped. After some consultation, Cheney and Screwball were released, but not before Cheney reached into a heavy sack Screwball had seen him lugging all over Iraq through the most hazardous situations.
“I thought it was medicine, maps, munitions, you know, stuff vital to him and our missions. Maybe important V.P. stuff. Turns out I was wrong. What he’d been lugging all over Iraq was stacks of the Holy Bible. He handed one to each of the Iraqis. They took them and immediately began to embark on what can only be described as a journey of philosophical awakening. Then, before we left the room, he handed one to me.”
That’s the story of Pvt. Richard Cheney’s recent exploits in Iraq.
Screwball took his Bible home to an undisclosed location. He says he reads it every night in his basement amidst the lush jungle of hydroponic marijuana plants he grows under rows of illegally rigged heat lamps. He said he hasn’t seen Cheney in months, but is still amused to find filthy limericks text messaged to him on a regular basis. A damaged silver dollar dangles from a chain around his neck, a talisman of truthfulness, he swears.
Cheney’s office refused to confirm the account and said the vice president, being otherwise occupied, would be unavailable for comment on the Screwball story.