Confessions of a Terrorist

By Terry J. Allen, In These Times

Dear Senator Patrick Leahy:

I write from my sleeper cell outside Hardwick, Vt., through a constituent I persuaded to give you this letter.

I cannot speak my happiness on reading that you propose immunity for torturers and war criminals who confess, saying they “won’t be prosecuted unless they commit perjury.”

Your plan will bring great shouts of joy from the Absolved: the high officials who authorized torture, the lowly who carried it out, and the medical personnel who facilitated it.

I, too, have confessions pertaining to acts some partisans might label “crimes against humanity.” I assure you that my misdeeds also had high motives in service to God, nation, and the protection of my people’s way of life. Our sons are being killed, our blood is being shed, our holy places are being attacked.

Perhaps they are not as tall as your towers, but they are mighty to us. And we do only what God instructed—protect our lands from invasion and our women from immodesty and corrupting Western influences, like education.

Before, I took pride in my power and righteousness. Now I am more wishing to avoid prison or drone attack. So I praise you for championing hearings based on the South African Truth and Reconciliation model, and giving it teeth by warning that if “people at a higher level did something illegal, refused to testify, they don’t get immunity.”

I do NOT refuse, knowing you will grant me absolution if I clean my breast of my just but perhaps overzealous deeds. You said immunity should be done “very, very carefully, only after consultation with the Department of Justice.” Without a Truth Commission, you note, getting to the bottom of things might take 20 years, “and we’d probably end up with all the small fries.”

That’s me! Small fry terrorist. Unlike the torture masters and lawyers, my crimes are little potatoes. I have yet to destroy many lives and, as Donald Rumsfeld said, “stuff happens.”

A lawyer and a lawmaker, you once said that “nobody’s above the law in this country” and laws apply to all equally. Adding the concept of immunity for confession is a glorious improvement, like your own Catholic Church bestows. (By the way, my cousin at AIG is also ready to confess for immunity.)

Despite knowing that U.S. officials sanctioned and carried out torture, for which international law requires prosecution, you have the courageous pragmatism to call for words, not punishment.

Thus, your hearings will combine those great tenets of democracy: catharsis and entertainment. All Americans will benefit watching perpetrators squirm—even while knowing there will be no consequence beyond book deals and Fox News slots.

How gracious the commission will be if Abu Ghraib interrogators go free, despite an autopsy on Manadel al-Jamadi that ruled his death a homicide from “blunt force injuries” and “compromised respiration.” Your president is willing to let bygones be bygones for the actual torturers, since they, like me, were only following orders—although he sagely avoided that phrase.

I will accept the same immunity your plan may grant to those who waterboarded one prisoner 183 times in a month; to psychologist James Mitchell, who laid the intellectual justification for torture, reportedly telling a CIA official that terrorists “would confess for only one reason: sheer terror” (while U.S. officials will confess freely for immunity!); and to officials who approved or advocated torture—George J. Tenet, John McLaughlin, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Dick Cheney (who once rudely advised you do an impossible act upon your esteemed person), George Bush, John Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, and Republican and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi, Peter Goss, Bob Graham, and Richard Shelby.

Sadly, I cannot legitimize my crimes with great documents from a legal team like Jay Bybee (now a federal judge), John Yoo (now teaching college) William Haynes (now working for Chevron), Alberto Gonzales, David Addington and Douglas Feith. But I have ways to recruit loyal servants who will insist my acts were pure and legal.

Agreeing with your president that we should look forward rather than back, I look forward to retiring from terrorism, raising goats, writing my memoirs, meeting Oprah and (please permit me a small joke) becoming a federal judge.

In closing, dear senator, I join throngs who will sing praises for your efforts to bring closure and expose facts. For eight years, America ceded liberty to security. Now it has the opportunity to further truth by sacrificing justice and the rule of law. What a wonderful precedent for well-meaning criminals like me.

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