Another Turkey Escapes the Pot

In a speech delivered at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in Jan. 16, 2004, Arundhati Roy, the great Indian activist and author of The God of Small Things, asked the assembled delegates to ponder the question: “Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?” She recalled for them the great American tradition of issuing a presidential pardon to one lucky turkey on Thanksgiving. She postulated that this tradition was a perfect allegory for what she called the New Racism.

“A few carefully bred turkeys,” she said, “the occasional Colin Powell, or Condoleezza Rice ... are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot.” And so, Arundhati asked “Who can say that turkeys are against Thanksgiving? They participate in it!”

Well, George Bush has got a new turkey. The child of poor Mexican laborers, he was born into the pot of poverty. What was his ticket out? He has done his master’s bidding, and will certainly continue to do so, for he knows how severely transgressions can be punished. He stood at the right hand of George W. Bush when Bush was Texas governor. As the trusted counsel, he facilitated the execution of 57 prisoners on death row, never once suggesting clemency. Into the pot they went. Their blood paved the way to the White House.

Mercy is not in the job description of the presidential turkey. Justification for executions? No problem. Justification for torture? Right you are sir. The turkeys in the pot scream they are being tortured. We imagine him looking down upon his less lucky cousins and honoring them with a reading of a memorandum prepared for him by his deputies: "We conclude,” he will recite to them, “that for an act to constitute torture ... it must inflict pain that is difficult to bear. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Perhaps they continue to complain. “What about the Geneva Conventions? This is very unconventional, this treatment we are receiving.” He is not fazed. He takes out of his pocket another memorandum, one he wrote himself to please his boss. We are engaged in “a new kind of war,” the memorandum explains, which creates a “new paradigm.” “This new paradigm,” he tells the turkeys, reading word for word from his text “renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of the enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Perhaps turkeys are lucky. They die quickly. Now the living – in Abu Graib, Guantanamo, and countless nameless gulags – envy the dead. No small thanks to that man of humble origins, who is our new attorney general.

In the topsy-turvy world of Bush, the new chief law enforcement officer of the nation has become the chief spokesperson for the doctrine that law does not apply to his master. At Gonzalez’s confirmation hearing Sen. Russell Feingold asked him point blank whether the president has "the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law." The best he could do was to say "I consider that a very significant decision, and one that I would personally be involved with." Reassuring isn’t it?

So long to the constitution. Welcome the unthinkable. Our capacity for outrage is being sorely tested. The words with which we name the horror of the Bush administration have been stolen from us, drained of meaning, and injected with poison like corpses in a funeral parlor, drained of blood and injected with embalming fluid. Freedom. How can we ever use the word again after it has nested so comfortably in the mouths of demagogues? “We will free you.” has become a threat, a curse, an ominous warning.

We will need those words back in the next four years. We will need them to prepare the indictment of Alberto Gonzalez, his president, and all the gobbling turkeys that now surround him.

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