Almost without exception, Americans have had deep fears of confronting one particular truth about George W. Bush, and that is his sadism. But with the release of the CIA's torture report Americans can no longer turn their backs on disturbing and shameful effects of the trickle-down sadism that was a central hallmark of Bush 43's presidency.
Bush's recent book publication and his numerous television appearances show our folksy ex-president lovingly writing about his father. Nowhere is there an inkling that he knew about the torture report that soon would reveal his administration in all its cruelty. He's just a friendly ex-president turned portrait painter, whom no one would ever think of as the orchestrator of a most disturbing chapter in America's history.
Long before the report was released, Bush's appetite for destruction was clearly visible to those willing to look. As a child, he inserted firecrackers into the bodies of frogs, lighting the fuses to blow them up. As a teenager, he fired a BB Gun at his own younger brothers, lining them up naked in the family home before shouting "I'm going to count to ten, and you run all the way down the hall."
Verbal sadism was readily available to him, and often used throughout most of his life. Examples are too numerous for this blog. But as president of a Yale fraternity he enjoyed inflicting real physical pain on naked pledges: he "branded each initiate just above and in between the buttocks with the red-hot tip of a wire coathanger." In an interview with the New York Times when he was barely 22, he shrugged off his cruelty as "only a cigarette burn."
By the time he was governor of Texas, George W. Bush institutionalized his destructiveness, executing a record number of prison inmates -- and was caught on camera smirking about it. As president he proudly brandished pictures of the beheaded sons of Saddam Hussein, while he oversaw the continued bombing of Baghdad using manufactured justification.
One doesn't have to read too deeply into the report to see what Freud described as the fundamentally anal expressions of sadism.
By page four of the torture report we have a clear example of the powerful effects sanctioned sadism had on how the CIA's handled detainees: "At least five CIA detainees were subjected to 'rectal rehydration' or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. ...Majid Khan's 'lunch tray' consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was 'pureed' and rectally infused."
Why this torture report shocks many is because Americans have turned our collective blind eyes to information that was always there -- and this is just in the person of President Bush. Who knows what one would find out about Cheney, Gonzales (Bush's attorney general in Texas who helped plan executions using 15-minute reviews per victim), and others high up in that administration?
Even those on the left turned away; over lunch, director Oliver Stone refused my clear recommendation that he address Bush's sadism in his movie "W." He demurred, arguing that people would call his movie biased and wouldn't ever go see it. Perhaps Stone was not simply avoiding having to take a stand -- he may have simply had his fingers on the pulse of those many Americans who have denial in their veins.