The Pointless Death of David Johnson

In the grim calculus of death and mayhem in the Middle East, the videotaped beheadings of Nick Berg and Paul Johnson are somehow supposed to count as “told you sos” for the prowar right wing. The brutality of the killings, coupled with the grisly footage thereof, are supposed to elicit disgust, not just for the men who murdered these men but by extension to the Iraqi resistance and Muslims in general.

Obviously the murderers are first and foremost to blame. But a share of the responsibility also lies at the feet of those who have made America so despised throughout the world: presidents, policymakers and spooks past and present. They made “American” a dirty word. They made Americans targets.

It’s also true that Mssrs. Berg and Johnson took a risk by, respectively, traveling to the active war zone of occupied Iraq and, in Mr. Johnson’s case, working in Saudi Arabia—a nation ruled by a widely despised U.S.-puppet dictatorship under siege from internal dissidents and outside Islamists. Having a risk go bad doesn’t make one responsible for the consequences, but the risk should be acknowledged. Both men would be alive today had they chosen to work in stable, democratic nations.

Johnson’s killers are naive if they believe that Americans or their Saudi puppets will release prisoners or alter any of their policies in response to his beheading. Ditto with the Al Qaeda group that killed Berg. Americans are revulsed by these deaths, but they don’t change anybody’s minds. Supporters of U.S. foreign policy under Bush view the deaths as confirmation that Arabs are inhuman; opponents see them as further indicators that we should act to become less reviled.

As we consider these gruesome murders, we should consider them on par with the gruesome murders of 800+ American servicemen and women and close to 100,000 Iraqi and Afghan civilians and soldiers killed during Bush’s two wars. Bush’s hands are dripping with their blood, just as surely as the men who drew the knives across Berg and Johnson’s throats. They’re all tragic; unnecessary and pointless. The difference is that their deaths aren’t on tape.

And even if they were—as we see in the case of the still yet to be seen Anu Ghraib videos—the American media wouldn’t broadcast them.

When’s the Right Time?

Dan Rather spoke for many last week when he suggested that the time for a balanced, non-gauzy analysis of the Reagan presidency would be after he was interred.

That was last weekend. Which means we should expect a sober look at the good, the bad and the ugly. This week.

So where is it? A search of major newspapers finds that the number of pieces offering a critical look at Reagan this week is:


Which is why I and Christopher Hitchens and others offered our corrective to the Republicans’ mass masturbation ceremony last week. Because, when it comes to speaking ill of the Republican dead, there’s really never a right time.

Leaving Baghdad

I’ve been saying it for more than a year: no occupying army has ever been viewed with anything other than distaste by its subjects, and Iraq is no different.

Now Michael Hirsh, writing in Newsweek, has dug up a poll of Iraqi public opinion the Colonial Provisional Authority tried to keep secret—because it shows that the people of Iraq, contrary to statements from the White House and their media parrots, hate our guts and want us to get out of their country.

The first survey of Iraqis sponsored by the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal shows that most say they would feel safer if Coalition forces left immediately, without even waiting for elections scheduled for next year. An overwhelming majority, about 80 percent, also say they have “no confidence” in either the U.S. civilian authorities or Coalition forces. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed also said they believed violent attacks have increased around the country because “people have lost faith in the Coalition forces.”

The poll numbers were reflected in the anger seen in the streets of Baghdad after a series of car bombings on Monday. While U.S forces and Iraqi police hung back, crowds set some of the vehicles on fire, threw bricks and shouted insults at U.S. soldiers. According to the poll, a mere 1 percent of Iraqis now feel that the Coalition forces contribute most to their sense of security; only 18 percent described Iraqi police the same way. By contrast, a total of 71 percent said they depended mostly on their family and friends and neighbors for security.

The poll results, which have not been released publicly but were obtained by NEWSWEEK, indicate that the April publication of photos depicting the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison accelerated a long-term decline in support for the U.S. occupation. Of the Iraqis surveyed, 71 percent said they had been surprised by the Abu Ghraib revelations. Most, however, said they now believe the abuses were widespread. Fifty-four percent agreed with the statement that “all Americans behave this way,” and 61 percent said they believed no one would be punished for the abuses. A CPA spokesman said Tuesday that he had not yet examined the numbers.

The poll reflects an inexorable decline in support for the U.S. occupation since the fall of Baghdad over a year ago. In November 2003, 47 percent of those surveyed still expressed confidence in the CPA; those figures plummeted to 9 percent in April and 11 percent in May. In the latest survey, 81 percent of Iraqis also expressed “no confidence” in Coalition forces. Seventy-eight percent expressed the same grim opinion of the outgoing CPA, which is slated to dissolve when sovereignty is handed over to the interim government on June 30.

There is no good news out of Iraq, and it’s only going to get worse. There is zero chance of this misadventure working out. Let’s bring our troops home, begin to restore honor to our nation and start to atone for what we’ve done.

Then brace for the blowback: Iraq, and possibly Turkey, in civil war. All courtesy of Bush and his media suck-ups.


WAKE UP, YOU’RE LIBERAL: HOW WE CAN TAKE AMERICA BACK FROM THE RIGHT is my new political manifesto that tells Democrats, the Left and progressive organizations how they can make a comeback and why most Americans are liberal–but don’t know it.

But if you’re looking for my infamous cartoons and columns from the soon to come to an end Bush era, you also need the perfect companion piece: GENERALISSIMO EL BUSHO: ESSAYS AND CARTOONS FROM THE BUSH YEARS, which is being released in both hardback and paperback.

EL BUSHO contains more than 60 columns, speeches and non-archived essays about the stolen 2000 election, 9/11, the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and the neofascist Bush regime’s attacks on our precious freedoms. These are clarion calls from the wilderness, declarations of anger and patriotism issued from the front lines of political battle. These cartoons and essays resulted in calls for my being imprisoned or executed by public officials and were, until recently, among the few mainstream voices of dissent in this country.

Sprinkled liberally (of course!) throughout the 208-page tome are my best and most notorious cartoons from 2000 to 2004. Bear in mind: there are currently no plans to issue a book that just collects my cartoons.

You can order EL BUSHO now through Amazon or get it anywhere where books are sold except WalMart.

Democrats Under Siege

As Generalissimo El Busho’s polls drop, the Bushies are becoming desperate. Which means that to espouse left-of-center politics these days is a dangerous business.

People like me, Michael Moore, Al Franken and Bill Maher have been targeted by right-wing hate groups and their repugnant anonymous warblogger allies. Their goal is to deny us an income and a voice by deluging our employers with hate email–99% of it from people who don’t actually read the publications in which we appear. Because the right can’t win the battle of ideas, they’re forced to resort to the next best thing: silencing their opponents.

Make no mistake: it’s neo-McCarthyism, and it’s been in full swing since 9/11.

There is, however, something that you can do.

When you see a cartoon or movie or column or other form of expression that you agree with, don’t just smile and turn the page. Send an email or, better yet, a real letter to the editor. Thank them for supporting work you enjoy and/or consider important, and ask your friends to do the same. If you have a website or liberal-minded blog, post a link so other likeminded souls can do the same. And, of course, buy their books. Among cartoonists, readers are notorious for requesting cartoon collections that they don’t support by purchasing.

I’m still getting emails from readers of New York Times Digital and asking where my cartoons went. If these fans and others like them had written to say they liked my stuff when it was still around, they probably wouldn’t have to ask now.

The Guardian UK on Ted Rall

The venerable UK Guardian, the paper that keeps many Americans sane and informed during the Bush occupation, has an article about yours truly in today’s edition.


He mocked 9/11 widows and a dead president. But Ted Rall is one of the few prepared to take on the US right

by John Sutherland

It’s harder to offend people than it used to be. Young Stephen Fingleton, an undergraduate at UCL, uses the word “fuck” 77 times in a 400-word farewell column (headlined “Fuck You”) in the London Student newspaper and raises barely a “What the heck?” Time was Fingleton would have been rusticated. Or at least noticed.

Top of the list among America’s most offensive is Ted Rall. If Doonesbury and Michael Moore are the cutting edge of American political comedy, Rall is its bludgeon. He believes liberals should reclaim America from the rightist-Christianists. Humour is his offensive weapon.

He campaigns on many fronts. He’s an author, a print journalist, a tireless blogger and – most effectively – a cartoonist. Throughout the 1990s he built up a following as a “guerrilla artist” among the young and mad-as-hell in New York. He won awards and published a graphic novel, The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done.

Hey, I’m flattered. But I’ve actually published two more graphic novels, MY WAR WITH BRIAN and the Orwell parody 2024. And TO AFGHANISTAN AND BACK, which contains a 50-page graphic-novel-form comic. Back to the Guardian…

There are various schools of thought about the worst thing Rall has done. Some would say his 2002 cartoon satirising the 9/11 widows (very sacred cows) as money-grubbing harpies; others might nominate his comic strip lampooning Pat Tillman, NFL football star turned US Ranger, as a “sap”. Tillman was no national hero, Rall jeered, but a “cog in a low-rent occupation army”. He deserved to die by friendly fire. The Tillman strip attracted 6,000 emails and enough death threats to make Rall wholly uninsurable.

Ted again. Hey, I never said Tillman deserved to die. And I don’t feel that way, either. I do think he was stupid, and possibly ill-intentioned, and I’ve said so. The uninsurable thing is pretty funny, though.

Most, however, would agree that the acme of Rallist offensiveness was his comment last week that Ronald Reagan (the “Proto-Bush”) was char-broiling in the flames of hell and “turning crispy brown right now”: Kentucky Fried President. It was accompanied by a cartoon showing an Alzheimery Gipper in the underworld.

Maybe he’s right, but if so it’s a little weird. Surely it should be more offensive to satirize Tillman than Reagan. Reagan, after all, was the devil incarnate…and the president! No president is beloved by all.

Rall’s Reagan was not the “national treasure” that President Bush eulogised, but the scourge of America’s poor; the man who abolished student aid and let Aids rip; the purveyor of “quack economics” (ie, tax cuts for his buddies); the despoiler of national parks, etc. In short, to borrow a proto-Bushism, Reagan was downright evil. “If there is a hell, this guy is in it,” Rall declared on the day Margaret Thatcher paid her respects before the flag-draped coffin. “And just how old is that nasty old crone?” mused Rall.

It was, however, the cartoon and “turning crispy brown” that really got through to middle America. There were so many emailed protests that his website ( crashed for 24 hours after the remark and the offending cartoon were posted on the US website Drudge Report.

Typical was “Doug” of West Virginia: “You are a cocksucker. Go back to the USSR, that failed like you. Go to France, cocksucker. Do everyone some good and move down to Cuba. Thank you. Jerkweed Burn In Hell!!!!” Another ill-wisher wrote: “Fuck you Dickweed. I hope the maggots won’t even eat your dead carcass.”

It’s pretty damned awesome that a mainstream British newspaper can print such vulgarities rather than the infantile f*** y** you see in our papers.

“Sexuality”, Rall notes, is an obsessive theme among his critics. “I could tell by the way you talk,” wrote one US army veteran, having seen Rall on TV, “that you’ve consumed much sperm, and are addicted to homosexuality.” Rall is (I believe) straight, anti-abortion, and was pro-impeachment for Clinton.

The last time America was embroiled in a divisive war, protest mobilised in the campuses and in papers such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Today the universities are dormant and the press too fearful about circulation to raise its voice above a dissenting murmur. Politicians keep their heads down and salute the flag – it’s election year.

Only the tasteless comedians (Al Franken, Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Rall) and the “leftwing Hollywood kooks” (Barbra Streisand, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen) are prepared to take on what they perceive as the Great Rightwing Hegemony. It’s a depressing spectacle: intransigent prejudice (Fox News) versus intransigent protest (Fahrenheit 9/11). You want reasoned debate? “Go to France, cocksucker.”

Overall, a great piece. (Although an assertion that I’m “anti-abortion” is incorrect. My stance on abortion is nuanced; I’m 100% pro-choice while acknowledging that life begins at conception. I believe that women have the right to murder their unborn babies, in other words, and that it’s a right that should be used as sparingly as possible–except in the case of pregnant teens, for whom it should be the first choive.) Does Britain offer political asylum?

Torturers and GOP Supporters – A Link?

Many of the loons who send me hate mail seem obsessed with gay sex. They call me a cocksucker, sperm drinker, asspony, etc.

Interestingly, the Defense Department appears to share their interests. In a New York Times piece that drew remarkably little attention, it seems evident that the Abu Ghraib types have some serious gay sex issues themselves:


Forced Nudity of Iraqi Prisoners Is Seen as a Pervasive Pattern, Not Isolated Incidents


Published: June 8, 2004

In the weeks since photographs of naked detainees set off the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, military officials have portrayed the sexual humiliation captured in the images as the isolated acts of a rogue night shift.

But forced nudity of prisoners was pervasive in the military intelligence unit of Abu Ghraib, so much so that soldiers later said they had not seen “the whole nudity thing,” as one captain called it, as abusive or out of the ordinary.

While there have been reports of forced nakedness at detention facilities in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the practice was apparently far more aggressive at Abu Ghraib, according to interviews, reports from human rights groups and sworn statements from detainees and soldiers. The detainees said leaving prisoners naked started as far back as last July, three months before the seven soldiers now charged and their military police company arrived at the prison. It bred a culture, some soldiers say, where the abuse captured on film could happen.

Detainees were paraded naked past other prisoners and guards; some were ordered to do jumping jacks and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” in the nude, according to a several witnesses. Also, a father and his grown son were stripped, then forced to stand and stare at each other. The International Committee of the Red Cross, visiting in October, found prisoners left naked in their cells for days, modestly trying to shield themselves behind cardboard from meals-ready-to-eat boxes.

It is not clear how the practice emerged and, if it was official policy, exactly who authorized it. Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the military intelligence officer in charge of interrogations at the prison, told Army investigators that detainees might be stripped and shackled for questioning, but not without “good reason.” When Red Cross monitors expressed alarm about prisoners being left in their cells or forced to move about naked, they said military intelligence officials “confirmed that it was part of the military intelligence process.”

“It was not uncommon to see people without clothing,” Capt. Donald J. Reese, the warden of the tier where the worst abuses occurred, told investigators in a sworn statement in January. “I only saw males. I was told the `whole nudity thing’ was an interrogation procedure used by military intelligence, and never thought much of it.”

An analyst from the 205th Military Intelligence Battalion, who asked not to be identified for fear of being punished for speaking out, said: “If you walked down through the wing of the prison where they were being held, they would have them strip down naked. Sometimes they would stand on boxes and would hold their arms out. That happened almost every night — having them naked. I wouldn’t say it’s abuse. It’s definitely degrading to them.”

Soldiers said at least one civilian interrogator, Steven Stefanowicz, had been so alarmed by the use of nudity that he reported a military intelligence interrogator after she made a detainee walk naked down a cellblock to humiliate him. His lawyer said Mr. Stefanowicz, who an Army report said might have been “directly or indirectly” responsible for abuses, had not thought stripping detainees was an appropriate interrogation technique, and had worried that doing so would incite more unrest at a time when guards were fending off rioters with live bullets.

Nudity is considered particularly shameful in Muslim culture, a violation of religious principles. While nudity as a disciplinary or coercive tool may be especially objectionable to Muslims, they are hardly the only victims of the practice. Soldiers in Nazi Germany paraded naked prisoners in daylight, and human rights groups have documented the use of nudity during conflicts in Egypt, Chile and Turkey, and in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Central Intelligence Agency training manuals from the 1960’s and 1980’s taught the stripping of prisoners as an interrogation tool. Nudity and sexual humiliation have also been reported in American prisons where a number of guards at Abu Ghraib worked in their civilian lives.

Complaints about sexual humiliation have also emerged in Afghanistan. Seven Afghan men who had been held at the main detention center in Bagram, where the deaths of two detainees and accusations of abuse are now under investigation, said in recent interviews that during various periods from December 2002 to April 2004, they had been subjected to repeated rectal exams, and forced to change clothes, shower and go to the bathroom in front of female soldiers.

“I’m 50 years old, and no one has ever taken my clothes,” said Abdullah Khan Sahak, who was released from American custody on April 19 and complained that he was photographed nude in Afghanistan. “It was a very hard moment for me. It was death for me.”

Zakim Shah, a 20-year-old farmer, and Parkhudin, a 26-year-old farmer and former soldier who, like many Afghans, has only one name, said female soldiers had watched groups of male prisoners take showers at Bagram and undergo rectal exams.

“We don’t know if it’s medical or if they were very proud of themselves,” Mr. Shah said. “But if it was medical, why were they taking our clothes off in front of the women? We are Afghans, not Americans.”

On two or three occasions, the two men said, the women commented to one another about the size of prisoners’ penises. “They were laughing a lot,” Parkhudin said, adding that the women taunted prisoners during showers, saying, “You’re my dog.”

Three other prisoners reported being questioned while naked at an American firebase in the city of Gardez in 2003. And at Camp Rhino, John Walker Lindh, the American now serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban, was stripped and bound with duct tape to a stretcher for two days, according to the statement of fact in his plea-bargain agreement.

At Guantánamo Bay, where some prisoners from Afghanistan were taken, a few British detainees said forced nudity had occurred. One of them, Tarek Dergoul, said after his release that some detainees had been stripped of their clothing, which would then be returned piece by piece in exchange for good behavior.

But Lt. Col. Leon H. Sumpter, a spokesman for the military joint task force that runs the detention center, said in a recent interview that nudity had never occurred in connection with interrogation or discipline and had not been approved.

A military official who served at Guantánamo said that after a wave of suicide attempts by prisoners in late 2002 and early 2003, the military police guards did take away clothing from some detainees who were considered suicide risks, out of concern that they might rip up their garments to make nooses.

In its visits to detention centers and prisons in Iraq, the Red Cross singled out the military intelligence section at Abu Ghraib for using public nudity in a “systematic” pattern of maltreatment. By contrast, the committee said it had heard no complaints of “physical ill treatment” at Camp Bucca, another large detention center.

A list of interrogation techniques posted at Abu Ghraib in September, indicating which were acceptable and which needed special authorization, makes no mention of leaving detainees naked. A senior military officer said, “There was no interrogation authority that authorized the removal of all clothing from a detainee.”

But detainees who made sworn statements after the prison abuse scandal broke all mentioned having been left naked, some for days. The practice goes back at least as far as July 10, when, according to his statement, a detainee named Amjed Isail Waleed was left unclothed in a dark room for five days. Another detainee, Ameen Saeed al-Sheik, said he was stripped on Oct. 7, a week before the arrival of the 372nd Military Police Company, the unit where soldiers are now charged with abuse.

By Oct. 20, forced nudity was such accepted practice that an incident report written by two of the soldiers now charged said an inmate in the cell where prisoners were held for interrogation had been ordered “stripped in his cell for six (6) days” for apparently whittling a toothbrush into what a soldier believed was a knife.

In late October, Red Cross monitors were so alarmed by the number of nude detainees that they halted their visit and demanded an immediate explanation.

“The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was `part of the process,’ ” the Red Cross wrote in a report in February.

In November, Specialist Luciana Spencer of the 66th Military Intelligence Group ordered a detainee stripped and handcuffed behind his back during his interrogation, then paraded him outdoors in the cold past other detainees to his cell.

“I remember we said, `Do you really have to walk him out naked?’ ” said the intelligence analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “And they said, `Yeah, yeah, we have to embarrass him.’ “

Mr. Stefanowicz reported the incident, and Specialist Spencer was moved out of the interrogation unit. Sometime around December, the nudity seemed to stop, according to several soldiers. Captain Reese, the tier warden, credited the Red Cross.

“They were concerned with the amount of nudity, and the area was cold and damp,” he said in his statement to investigators on Jan. 18. “The detainees did not have appropriate clothing and bedding. The second visit occurred two weeks ago, and things were much better. The nudity has stopped, and they seemed happy with what they saw.” sends me this hilarious email, entitled “More Liberal Lies”:

I read the piece on financial aid during the Reagan years, and I had to laugh. I was a freshman in college in 1979 and took out many student

loans. Most of the loans I received were at 5 or 9% interest at a time when the prime rate was approximately 17% thanks to Jimmy Carter.

They also were paid back ahead of schedule. I never had a problem or was denied any of these loans.

Why do you make up things that are obviously untrue? Keep up the good work, you are a walking talking billboard for the re-election of George Bush!!

Thank you.


The Reagan education budget cuts went into effect on October 1, 1981. They hit schools for the spring 1982 semester. Which means that JR would only have been subject to one of his eight semesters–his last one–before graduating in May 1982.

Who’s telling lies now? The scary thing is that JR actually gave credit to Reagan for Jimmy Carter’s low-interest student loans.

Oh, and if Bush wins this fall: it won’t be re-election. You have to win once to be re-elected.