Rohrabacher: Portrait of the Torture Apologist in the Twilight of His Career (panties on head.)




Find the barrel marked “U.S. Congress,” scrape the bottom of that barrel, and up will pop the low-comedy figure of Dana Rohrabacher (R, Huntington Beach.) Disdained by his GOP colleagues for his utter lack of seriousness and chronic Tourette’s, responsible for no significant legislation in two decades and shut out of any important committees, our Dana has been reduced to scrounging around for any dirty work no other Republicans will do.

And recently, he’s found a job right up his alley. Looking at Bush & Cheney’s lawless, universally-condemned torture regime at Guantánamo Bay, he said to himself: “Now here’s something I can do. This, I’m comfortable with. Defending all of this with jokes.” Finding that some of the suspects, besides undergoing various tortures, were also humiliated by having women’s panties put on their heads, he said to himself: “Now that’s kind of funny. I think I’m onto something here.”


1. Despite Dana’s infantile jokiness, we all know that nobody is calling “panties on the head” torture, and that we do a lot more and a lot worse to our detainees at Guantánamo. What you see in these two photos is known as stress positions; it doesn’t seem gruesome at first glance, but being left like this for hours or days is the equivalent of the medieval rack and thumbscrews: limbs leave sockets, people are crippled. (This was done to John Mc Cain in Vietnam, and to this day he can’t raise his arms above his head.) We all know waterboarding, condemned as torture for centuries since the Spanish Inquisition first used it, has been used many times, and we only have our government’s highly suspect word that it’s not still being used. We know about beatings, electric shocks, attacks by dogs, extremes of temperature, and sensory deprivation, but we know only what the government lets us know, as they regularly hide prisoners from the Red Cross. And we get a good idea of the bizarre sexual humiliations from the indiscreet Abu Ghraib revelations—these “techniques” were brought to Iraq from Guantánamo by General Geoffrey Miller.

2. In Dana’s telling, it’s all just “panties on the head” of men who “desire to kill tens of thousands of innocent Americans.” But of course not only are these men merely suspects, many if not most of them are perfectly innocent. An eight-month McClatchy investigation has found dozens, perhaps hundreds of men, wrongfully imprisoned in Gitmo and our other prisons “on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments.” It was also found that “US soldiers beat and abused many of these prisoners despite uncertainty about whom they were holding.”

3. We’ve been told by countless experts that information resulting from torture (assuming the motivation for the torture is desire for information, not just revenge or sadism) is notoriously unreliable, and also can’t be used in court. The Times recently had a fascinating article on the man who finally managed to get valuable information from Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, using legal, time-honored methods after torture didn’t work.

4. Dana rags on the “liberal left” for opposing the torture of our detainees, but the folks he’s actually criticizing here for their complaints and scruples is the F.B.I. From Dana’s extremist point of view, the FBI is the liberal left! Our policies at Gitmo draw criticism from all across the political spectrum, across the entire world, and if anything create even more hatred and terrorists. Under Bush, under the rubric of some “war on terror,” we’ve become a nation that tortures as a matter of policy. I am confident that most of us Americans do not want to be that.

What’s happened is that in the time-honored pattern of the fish rotting from the head down, the sadistic authoritarianism of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush has found its way through malevolent figures like General Miller down to hapless, expendable, redneck psychopaths like Charles Graner and Lynndie England, to the shame and dishonor of the rest of the brave Armed Forces and the rest of America. And Dana Rohrabacher (R, Huntington Beach) is the gleeful self-appointed water carrier for all of this.

It had seemed for a while that Dana Rohrabacher (R, Huntington Beach), terrified at having a credible challenger for the first time in his career, was keeping a low profile, knowing that historically every appearance, every time he opens his mouth, damages his reputation. But, driven perhaps by a self-destructive urge, he has of late been popping up everywhere, blazing in the height of his foolish glory. Is he really crying out, “Stop me before I win again”?

Having been humiliated last week in his hometown paper the Huntington Beach Independent with an unprecedentedly irreverent column (“It’s not about the panties,” June 11) comparing him to a crazy uncle you wish would keep quiet, he responded this week in a defensive letter essentially just repeating everything he’d already been ridiculed for saying. Can you hear it: “Please, stop me before I win again!”

How much longer must HB residents cringe each time this politician turns up on TV or in the newspaper with “R, Huntington Beach” next to his name? How much more of this publicity can we take? What must the nation, what must the world, think of Huntington Beach? Friends and neighbors, DANA’S GOTTA GO!!!

(PS. Debbie Cook has been saying, as long as she’s been a candidate, that we should close Guantánamo, and both Senator McCain and Senator Obama agree.)

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.