The man at the airport bar was watching Dick Cheney on FOX News. (No matter where I travel, FOX News is on the monitors, which explains much about our nation's present predicament.)
"I gotta admit," the man said. "I agree with him. I don't like him much, but I agree with him on this torture thing."
I was staring at my Sam Adams and had not initiated a conversation. I'd rather talk to Sam Adams than anyone who agrees with Dick Cheney on anything; especially torture.
"You think we should torture?" He nudged my elbow and became impossible to ignore.
The man was wearing a Texas Rangers gimme cap, a blue denim shirt, and a pair of Dockers. His belly was doing the middle-aged beer push over the rim of his belt and his eyes appeared scrunched up against his nose. An open expression and a round chin made him look friendly, though, and I didn't want to be rude.
"No sir," I said. "I don't think we should torture."
I was hoping this ended the discussion but the amber-colored liquid melting the ice in his glass was also warming him up to a talk with a stranger.
"Why not? What if it was your kid they was gonna kill and torture would get the information so the Seals could rescue your kid?"
"It's not very likely it would provide that information, sir. My guess is that it would end up sending the Seals on a dead-end mission and they are not men to be trifled with. I'd hate to get them mad."
"Yeah, I know; you're being funny. But if it was your kid you'd want the terrorist tortured to get some truth out of him."
Maybe, I thought, but right now I'm being tortured. I looked down the long bar and there wasn't an empty stool, nowhere to hide. My flight was still two hours away and my work was completed and I didn't want to unfold my laptop. I just wanted to talk to Sam Adams and stare at the TV.
"The thing is, sir, it doesn't get the truth. It just gets you something to stop the torture. When they figure out what you want to hear they just make it up and you waste a lot of time chasing after phantoms."
"I think you're wrong and the vice president's right."
"Maybe. I've sure been wrong a lot in my life but I think the vice president's been wrong more in the past few days than I have in my entire life."
I took a big gulp of beer and looked back at the TV. A glistening-lipped blonde with cerulean blue eyes was offering Rupert Murdoch's daily interpretation of the endeavors of America and the wider world. If only she were as intelligent as she was fetching.
"You don't think America should torture, do you?"
He had turned on his bar stool and was staring at my right ear. I raised my empty glass to let the bartender know I needed another and maybe another and another, depending on when the neighbor at my right was departing.
"Nope, I don't. Never. Not ever. Period."
"Well, you're wrong. We gotta do whatever we need to do to protect ourselves and our families."
"Sir, here's the thing. That doesn't protect us. It only makes us more enemies and W has planted a big crop of those for us already so the market is kind of glutted right now."
My voice was steady and not confrontational. I just wanted him to leave me the hell alone and go catch his flight back to Booger Hollow. Turning back to the TV, I had to wonder why we were still talking about the merits of torture in my departure lounge bar or on news broadcasts. What bothered me even more was that Dick Cheney was still in the midst of the discussion. I realize he's a citizen and has a right to an opinion but I don't understand why editors still put him in front of cameras and ask him questions. Of course, I was watching FOX.
"I think you are wrong. That's all. You're just wrong."
"Yes, I reckon you've made that clear."
"But tell me why not. Why don't you think we should?" The man's face had gone soft and his voice sounded slightly tremulous. Alcohol may have launched new emotions.
"Sure. I'll tell you and I'll tell Cheney and W and any other person who would torture a person in my name or my country's name: it's immoral to torture another human being for any reason. I think it's immoral to torture any living creature. Let's remember who we are and how we got here. We got moral power in the world by being a force for right and good. America doesn't torture people. That's what Nazis did, for god's sake. Why would we for a second let ourselves become anything like the vilest types of humans that ever lived?"
My argument sounded convincing to me and my barstool buddy sat silent. He scratched at his chin and ordered a scotch and water. Please don't let him be on my flight, I thought. He'll try to sit next to me.
"You know, if it were up to me," he said after a few minutes of silence, "I'd stick a red-hot branding iron on their ass until they talked. Let 'em suffer."
"It's probably a good thing it's not up to you then, I suppose."
This time he spun quickly on his stool and I turned immediately in his direction almost instinctively as if I were going to defend myself from a swing. But he stuck out his hand in friendship.
"I sure respect what you've got say but I also respectfully disagree. Our country's in danger and we've got to do some new and different things to protect ourselves. I know it ain't right but I think it's worth the risk to get whatever information we can from the bad guys."
I shook his hand.
"Well, I'm afraid you are wrong, my friend. It just slowly turns us into bad guys, too, and to hell with anyone who ruins the name of my country by using torture to protect it. If you have to torture people to save something then you need to look hard at what you are saving."
In a minute we were both zoned out on the television again and then he just laughed. I wondered what was funny until he said, "I'll bet we can agree on something."
"I'll bet you are as happy as I am ol' W ain't still in there makin' things worse."
"Ha. Finally, common ground," I said.
We touched our glasses in a toast. And then I bought him a drink before he left for his plane, which, fortunately, was not the same flight as mine.
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