18 November 2007

Dubious Documents: The Unlikely Life of William Drannan

While wandering about online looking for Dubious Document material I might have overlooked, I stumbled onto two different lists of the greatest literary hoaxes of all time (here and here). Neither broke any new ground, exactly, and both had some rather questionable entries. Secret Mark and a supposedly forged tragedy of Sophocles really don’t belong here, for example, and others—Clifford Irving's autobiography of Howard Hughes and Hitler's supposed diaries—were frauds so transparent that they really are more examples of publishers' impositions than literary hoaxes. Anyway, after thinking about it, I thought I'd put together my own list of, well, not necessarily the greatest literary hoaxes of all time, but, shall we say, the most interesting literary hoaxes of all time. I intend to start with the tenth item on my list and work my way up over the course of time to number one.

So first comes #10: William Drannan's Thirty-One Years on the Plains and in the Mountains (1899).

When I was looking through my grandmother's friendship book—that's a book people used to keep their collection of people in—there was a space for each person to enter his or her favorite book. There was an interesting range of books there. The Bible put in an appearance several times, and Riders of the Purple Sage, and so did another, perhaps less familiar volume. It was nothing less than the true-life adventures of a frontier scout—the boon companion of Kit Carson, and the chief of scouts during the Modoc War. William Drannan may not have made much of an impression in the history books, but he definitely made an impression on the minds of boys growing up in the days before World War I changed everything. Little Robert E. Howard—later to be the creator of Conan the Barbarian and King Kull—read his account avidly, and years later recalled seeing the author "wandering about the streets of Mineral Wells … trying to sell the pitiful, illiterate book of his life of magnificent adventure and high courage; a little, worn old man in the stained and faded buckskins of a vanished age, friendless and penniless." Howard—a contemporary of my grandmother and her friends, by the way—would have been about five or six at the time. "God," he wrote H. P. Lovecraft, "what a lousy end for a man whose faded blue eyes had once looked on the awesome panorama of untracked prairie and sky-etched mountain, who had ridden at the side of Kit Carson, guided the waggon-trains across the deserts to California, drunk and revelled in the camps of the buffalo-hunters, and fought hand to hand with painted Sioux and wild Comanche. … Always the simple, strong men go into the naked lands and fight heroical battles to win and open those lands to civilization. Then comes civilization, mainly characterized by the smooth, the dapper, the bland, the shrewd men who play with business and laws and politics and they gain the profits; they enjoy the fruit of other men’s toil, while the real pioneers starve."

The thing is, it wasn't really like that at all. Thirty-One Years on the Plains is actually a work of fiction, with precious little in the way of facts to back it up. No biographer of Kit Carson has ever taken it seriously. Actual participants in the Modoc war—Major Frazier Boutelle, whose cool courage saved the troops in the Lost River Fight; "Colonel" William Thompson, a leader of the Oregon Volunteers and a legend in his own mind; Jeff Riddle, the son of the interpreters Frank and Toby Riddle—all of whom were unquestionably present—denounced the work as a pack of lies. And so it is. William Drannan told of his conversations with the Modoc leader, Captain Jack—who spoke no English. (He apparently understood it well enough, but always spoke through interpreters.) Drannan described two failed attempts to take the Modoc stronghold—one under Frank Wheaton and one under General Canby—when only one (the former) took place. He wrote of a "Mr. Berry" who came in to negotiate with the Modocs (when he, Drannan, could have done a better job)—a man unknown to the history of the war. And he cast himself as the Chief of Scouts—a rôle actually taken by a fellow named McKay—Daring Donald McKay, as he billed himself in a dime novel version of his life.

The real William Drannan continues to elude researchers. He apparently was involved in the hotel and restaurant businesses in Seattle and Portland during the 1890s, and he and his wife hawked his books—according to some his wife actually wrote them—around the country during the early years of the twentieth century. Not much else seems to have turned up on him.

Is there any truth in the book? As a student of the Modoc War, I was fascinated by the oddity that while Drannan was wrong on major events, his details were often correct. He had the right people at the right places—the obscure people, that is. Not the major players. I got the feeling that he must have at least lived in the area at some time. Even his mistakes could be interesting. The "Mr. Berry" he referred to, for instance. The real person who took the rôle assigned to "Mr. Berry" was a lawyer named Elijah Steele. He had two partners in his law practice: Rosborough (who also played a part in the Modoc War) and Berry (who didn't). Now, naming the wrong partner in a local law firm is the kind of mistake that only a local would make.

And another thing—he remembered a footnote to the war that made a local stir but barely attracted any attention outside the area. When the Modoc leaders were hanged afterward, the reporters present had a kind of race going to see who could first get the news to the telegraph station. Relays of horses and riders were set up by rival papers to see who could get to the Yreka telegraph first—some sixty or seventy miles away. The San Francisco Chronicle man even tried carrier pigeons. One reporter tried to get ahead of the others by sending his report to a telegraph station further off, in Ashland, Oregon. There was quite a bit of local excitement over these preparations, but little outside interest. Drannan, however, cast himself as one of the messengers carrying the news of the execution.

According to his story, he was the one who came up with the idea of trying the Ashland telegraph rather than the closer Yreka station. In his version of events his trusty horse—I forget his name—came through for him and Drannan carried the day, getting the news out first from Ashland. Needless to say, this is not how events actually worked themselves out. In point of fact the Ashland rider got drunk on the way, fell off his horse, and came in last in the race. Was Drannan that rider? Probably not, but the significant thing is that he remembered the event at all, when it was so quickly forgotten by everybody else. (His is the only version of the Modoc War to mention it until Oliver Knight's Following the Indian Wars came out in 1960.)

Some slight confirmation for his presence at the time comes from a note buried among the Applegate papers; according to this Drannan was a civilian contractor bringing supplies to the army during the Modoc War. So perhaps he was there, somewhere, at the edges of significant events. What about the Kit Carson stuff? Again, there is a slight confirmation in a relatively recently discovered inscription in Arizona. Kit Carson was there in 1849, and if this inscription is to be believed, so was William Drannan. The rock inscription reads "Killed Indians here 1849 Willie Drannan." So maybe, just perhaps, there was a grain of truth here as well. "What do you make of this?" an Elder of an Arizona tribe asked, on being presented with the evidence. He was told that it was a part of history. "Well, I call it murder," he responded. A far cry from the "life of magnificent adventure and high courage" Howard saw it as.

Next: #9--Chief Seattle's Speech.

15 November 2007

Quotation of the Day

The difference between "borrow and spend" republicans and "tax and spend" democrats is that at least the democrats try to have the money to pay for their spending. Call me crazy, but growing up I always thought that "don't buy what you can't afford to pay for" was one of those, "fiscal responsibility" issues that conservatives like to sing about. Maxing out the credit card bill is about the furthest thing from "fiscal responsibility" than one can get.--Pablo

05 November 2007

The Rules of the Game

I saw the following comic strip over at Denialism.

I personally find it trying--I meant to write tiring, but trying works too--to deal with arguments from people who don't seem to understand the basics of the rules of the game. If one person is playing bridge and his opponent is playing Monopoly™ little of substance is likely to result, though a good time may be had by all. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bemildred--the three bats in the Walt Kelly cartoon--used to have that problem all the time. At least they seemed to enjoy the confusion.

03 November 2007

With All Due Respect

Simulated drowning is a long-recognized form of torture. It has been used for centuries. To put it as simply as possible, yes, water-boarding is torture. With this in mind, it is interesting to read the following testimony given by our next Attorney-General to Congress.

DURBIN: We had questions yesterday about the issue of torture under the Geneva Conventions. The techniques which have been attributed to this administration involve painful stress positions, threatening detainees with dogs, forced nudity, water-boarding—that is, simulated drowning—and mock execution.

When we had the judge advocates general testify, I asked, point blank, whether they believed that these techniques violated the Geneva Conventions. They said yes.

And I asked if they felt if those techniques were used against an American detainee, they would be violative of the Geneva Convention. And they answered in the affirmative.

What is your opinion?

MUKASEY: They—I mean, I'm certainly not in a position here to argue to argue with a judge advocate general's view that they violated the Geneva Conventions and that, whether used against us or against anybody else, that they would.

That said, I think we have to also recognize that when we're talking about coercive methods of interrogation, this is not a matter of choosing pleasant alternatives over unpleasant alternatives or good alternatives over bad alternatives.

It's a choice among bad alternatives.

What the experience is of people in the Judge Advocate General's Corps who are enormously well-disciplined and very skilled, what that experience has been with captured soldiers, captured military people from enemies we fought in the past may very well be far different from the experience that we're having with unlawful combatants who we face now. It's a very different kind of person.

[DURBIN:] Well, I want to make sure I understand that response, because I think you may have created a division here in treatment, arguing that if these techniques were used in the past, before the current threat of terrorism, it would be a different circumstance under the Geneva Convention than it might be today.

I want to make sure I don't draw the wrong conclusion from that previous answer. So if you'd clarify it for me, please.

MUKASEY: I'm not sure how I can—I mean, I'm sorry. I'm not sure how I can clarify it.

DURBIN: Well, let me go back. I understood you to say that the judge advocates general, speaking about the Geneva Conventions and these specific methods of torture, may have been referring to previous times, previous conflicts, and that this conflict and this challenge of terrorism may present a different set of challenges that might be viewed or interpreted differently under Geneva Conventions.

If that is not what you said, please clarify it.

[MUKASEY:] I'm not sufficiently familiar with interpretations of the Geneva Conventions to be offering views on what would or would not come within it or outside it.

What I thought I was talking about is procedures that are acceptable to the military, that are authorized in the field manual and that represent the limit of what it is that the armed forces can do.

There are other techniques that are, as I understand it, that may be used by—with proper authorization—people outside the military. And those are not covered in the field manual.

DURBIN: But I'm speaking to the Geneva Conventions and the judge advocates general said the techniques that I described to you violated Common Article 3, and this is the baseline test that applies to everyone, not just soldiers. And I believe that the Supreme Court agreed with that conclusion in Hamdan.

Do you see that differently?

MUKASEY: What part of Common Article 3 the Supreme Court found in Hamdan was applicable through, I believe through the Universal Code of Military Justice, unless I'm confusing my cases.

I can't, as I sit here, recall precisely what part of Article 3 the Supreme Court found applicable. I thought they were talking about the need for a trial and for an opportunity for a detainee to get a hearing. I did not think that that concerned interrogation techniques.

DURBIN: Let me try to bring it to the bottom line, because I want to make sure if there is common ground we find it, if not, that it's clear on the record.

I want to understand as to these interrogation techniques whether you believe that they would constitute torture and therefore could not be used against any detainee, military or otherwise, by the United States government.

MUKASEY: I don't think that I can responsibly talk about any technique here, because of the very—I'm not going to discuss, and I should not—I'm sorry, I can't discuss, and I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar, when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques, and for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial, I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that.

DURBIN: This is not a congeniality contest, and I'm sorry that I've gone over, Mr. Chairman.

But, for instance, I just want to—if I can make one last point, on the issue of water-boarding, simulated drowning.

The United States has long taken the position that this is a war crime. In 1901, the U.S. Army Major Edwin Glenn sentenced to 10 years hard labor for water-boarding a captured insurgent in the Philippines.

U.S. military commissions after World War II prosecuted Japanese troops for engaging in water-boarding. The torture statute makes it a crime to threaten someone with imminent death. Water-boarding is a threat of imminent death.

I'm hoping that you can at least look at this one technique and say that clearly constitutes torture, it should not be the policy of the United States to engage in water-boarding, whether the detainee is military or otherwise.

MUKASEY: It is not constitutional for the United States to engage in torture in any form, be it water-boarding or anything else.

DURBIN: Take that as your answer.


LEAHY: I want to make sure I fully understand. But I wrote down about three different times you said: Unless it is authorized. Are you saying that techniques can be authorized that are not constitutional?

MUKASEY: No. That is emphatically not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that techniques can be authorized that are beyond the Army field manual, and I should not get into a discussion of what they might be or in what combination they might be authorized.

SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY, D-VT. CHAIRMAN: But if they—simply because something is authorized, if you have a law that says that it is torture and it is not allowed, is there any way it could be still authorized?

MUKASEY: If it is torture as defined in the Constitution, or as defined by constitutional standards, it can't be authorized. We don't have the Nuremberg defense here.

LEAHY: Is the current statute outlawing torture constitutional?

MUKASEY: I believe it is.

LEAHY: So that if something was authorized outside that statute, or that violates that statute, that authorization is illegal.

MUKASEY: Correct.

DURBIN: Thank you. Thank you, Judge, Mr. Chairman.

LEAHY: Senator—which one's next? I've lost track.

Senator Whitehouse? Sorry.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, D-R.I.: Just to finish that thought: So is water-boarding constitutional?

MUKASEY: I don't know what's involved in the technique. If water-boarding is torture, torture is not constitutional.

WHITEHOUSE: If water-boarding is constitutional is a massive hedge.

MUKASEY: No, I said, if it's torture. I'm sorry. I said, if it's torture.

WHITEHOUSE: If it's torture? That's a massive hedge. I mean, it either is or it isn't.

Do you have an opinion on whether water-boarding, which is the practice of putting somebody in a reclining position, strapping them down, putting cloth over their faces and pouring water over the cloth to simulate the feeling of drowning—is that constitutional?

MUKASEY: If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional.

WHITEHOUSE: I'm very disappointed in that answer. I think it is purely semantic.

As you consider this, I'd like to offer you at least a thought that I'd ask you to consider. This comes from testimony that was brought before the Senate Intelligence Committee, that is declassified.

It comes from a military officer who's conducted interrogations, who was team chief during the Gulf War, who had all the services under his command, interrogating literally thousands of prisoners.

He was an adviser to special operations task forces during Iraqi Freedom. He says, I have had a chance to really look at the academic, theoretical side of interrogation, but I am steeped in the operational side.

I asked him, From a point of view of intelligence-gathering effectiveness, would you, could you, or should you go beyond the Army Field Manual and the techniques that are authorized in the Army Field Manual, in order to obtain intelligence?

His answer: Senator, I thank you so much for that question, because I've been waiting 20 years to answer it. That is, absolutely not. I am not at all limited by the Army Field Manual, in terms of what I need to do to generate useful information.

That's the key—accurate useful information. Not leading to questions to force somebody to say what they think I want to hear. And the full spectrum of their knowledgeability, not answering only the questions I ask, but developing what I call operational accord, a relationship that they see it's in their best interests under non-pressure, non-coercive circumstances, that it would be in their best interest to answer these questions fully.

It gives an example of critical intelligence gathered in a search for Scud sites in the Iraq war and explains that he received it because the individual said, I'm so amazed at my treatment. I wanted, if I was going to be captured, to be captured by one of your allies. Not by the Americans, because I was told you were animals. You've treated me like a gentleman. You've treated me with respect. You are clearly knowledgeable of my customs and my culture. I'm more than happy to answer any questions that you have.

So, I asked him to confirm this. What you mean to say was you don't see the constraints of the army field manual—the moral constraints, the legal constraints—as in any way inhibiting the effectiveness of your examination techniques? That you could do everything you wanted to, that you missed for nothing because of those restrictions—is that what you intended to say?

The answer: That's precisely what I meant to say. I don't see those as limiting my ability to work, the spirit or the letter of that guidance. My approach was what we call a relationship-based approach. I've never felt any necessity or operational requirement to bring physical, psychological or emotional pressure on a source to win their cooperation.

So, following the guidance in the field manual, I feel unconstrained in my ability to work in the paradigm I've taught for so many years—22 years of 100 percent interrogation experience.

So then I asked him, Why do other countries do this? And he said, That gets to the very heart of the matter, and it is this. There are two objectives that one can pursue in interrogation: either winning cooperation, or compliance. They seem very similar, but there are profound differences.

Compliance means to take action that is against your interest, that you don't support—it has nothing to do with intelligence. Cooperation is winning a source's willingness to provide useful information. What the Chinese were interested, the Koreans, the North Vietnamese was maybe five percent intelligence, 95 percent compliance, meaning creating propaganda.

That's a while different paradigm. And the approaches that they use, like sleep deprivation and torture, ultimately will get any one of us in this room to do things that we couldn't imagine today, but it doesn't necessarily mean our ability to provide useful information.

And he concluded later by saying, So, I think the key points there is—are we trying to produce compliance, which is propaganda, or cooperation, which leads to intelligence? I hope, as you're evaluating these techniques, you will also consider the, I believe, widely held view of career professionals in the FBI, in the military, in the interrogation field who think that these techniques are not only wrong, but ineffective.

The part that fascinates me here is Mukasey's touching concern for torturers—criminals who may be operating within the US government in violation of both US and international law. He thinks it would be "irresponsible" to say something about them "that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk". He doesn't want to call a torturer a criminal just to be "congenial." Congenial! Could there be a word more ill-chosen than that one? This is a moral issue that should be made crystal clear. Torture is a crime. If there are torturers operating under the control of the US government—or people who knowingly connive at torture, say by sending detainees to places where they will be tortured—these people should be punished. Their careers and freedom should be at risk. In point of fact their careers and freedom should be ended. If Mukasey can't come out and say as much in plain English, his career as attorney-general should be ended now—before it has a chance to start.
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