The recent revelation that U.S. interrogators in Guantanamo Bay used a horrific video of John Wayne beheading a detainee to shock other prisoners into talking has reignited a long-standing debate over using
clips of dead movie stars for roles they never signed off on while living.
Advances in digital filmmaking in the 1990s led to the use of deceased idols, primarily for advertising. Humphrey Bogart graced Pepsi commercials, Gene Kelly danced with Paula Abdul, Groucho Marx shared a Coca-Cola with Cary Grant, and John Wayne helped sell Coors beer.
The Guantanamo John Wayne video, which first surfaced on the Internet three weeks ago, was leaked to a variety of media reporters along with a classified U.S. Department of Defense document outlining plans for a project code named Scared Shitless, an effort to produce several staged torture and assassination videos of Gitmo prisoners. Although not confirmed by sources, an obvious impetus for the project would have been the recent beheadings of American Nicholas Berg, Jack Hensley, Eugene Armstrong and others in Iraq by captors led by famed terrorist and knife wielder, Abu Musab al-Zaraqawi.
American Landscape’s Keith Harkins examines the issue in depth for our readers in an interview with an anonymous source at the Pentagon who was privy to the video and additional attempts to use the digital dead as an interrogation tool. The source has told AL that he supported the Scared Shitless project initially, but later became a naysayer for several reasons. He asked to be called the Scared Shitless Source.
AL: Let’s start with the video itself. As many of us who had the stomach, and the broadband, to view it on the web know, it portrays John Wayne swaggering through a cell door, slapping a masked prisoner around, then taking a common carpenter’s saw and rather awkwardly cutting off the man’s head. He then…
SSS: You forgot about the dialog.
AL: Right, Wayne, or at least his image, belts out, “Fill your hand, you son of a bitch,” which I’m not quite sure I understand.
SSS: It’s just a great line from Rooster Cogburn…doesn’t really have to mean anything.
AL: And then after the beheading he thrusts the head in the air and drawls, “This is what you get when you F—- with America.”
SSS: I believe its “F—- with Americans.”
AL: OK, Americans. Well first of all, is it real?
SSS: Of course it’s not real. It’s John Wayne for Christ sakes.
AL: And John Wayne’s dead, so the implication is that it can’t be real?
SSS: That’s the implication.
AL: So what’s the purpose of the video?
SSS: It’s simple. To scare Gitmo prisoners into talking. We take the video and show it to the SOBs after they’ve been subjected to a litany of traditional interrogation–or incentives so to speak–then tell them this is what’s in store if they don’t start talking. And I really should have qualified my previous answer. It is real, the video, when you watch it. It’s real when you view it.
AL: I’m confused now. Real or not real?
SSS: When you view it, it’s real.
AL: But once again, and I’m turning the tables. John Wayne is dead. So are you saying the average Iraqi or al Qaeda terrorist wouldn’t know that?
SSS: I’m not sure. That really wasn’t a consideration for us. After all, it’s John Wayne. His status vis-à-vis dead versus alive didn’t play into it.
AL: But he’s dead.
SSS: And again, what’s the difference? It’s a bit surreal, I know. But you’d be amazed at the effect that the surreal has on Arabs. They’re so wrapped up in black and white, they can’t see the truth. It has to be terrifying.
AL: On another front, what would John Wayne, in cowboy attire—not even the Green Berets look—be doing in Cuba at Guantanamo Bay?
SSS: There’s a long history of Hollywood celebrities serving their country in the armed services, and even in some rare instances, in the intelligence community. It wasn’t until the Hanoi Jane era that the political pendulum swung so that the majority of your actors were of the liberal persuasion. Sure, you had your commies in the past, but there were a majority of Golden Age stars that supported the stars and stripes. And need I mention Elvis? Who can forget the famous clips of his haircut after enlistment.
AL: There wasn’t a plan for Elvis to do an assassination video was there?
SSS: No. I recall it being mentioned, but buying the rights would have blown the budget. Not to mention he’s a little to hip for the gruesome stuff. Wouldn’t play well.
AL: And he’s dead.
SSS: Ahhh right. But we could go on with that one for hours.
AL: Let’s not. I want to focus instead on the rights issue. You mentioned “buying the rights.” Are you saying that the government actually paid to use the image of John Wayne for the beheading?
SSS: That’s what I’m saying. And we had lined up a host of other stars, bought the rights of their image. Not all dead guys either. Schwarzenegger, for instance, was on the bargaining table. A natural for this type of project, I might add.
AL: Was on the bargaining table? What happened?
SSS: It didn’t work out. Although a patriot and a Republican, Arnold was looking for rather low-key revenue sources for the California budget deficit and demanded a rather exorbitant price. That’s another advantage in dealing with dead people. You’re most often dealing with dip shits from large media conglomerates.
AL: Why don’t you outline some other plots for us.
SSS: Well, there were dozens of ideas. The Wayne one worked so well that no other went into production. But they were all variations of types of beatings, torture and death…Steve McQueen was a favorite. Then there was the Bronson one.
AL: Charles Bronson?
SSS: Yeah, I loved the idea. Bronson actually rapes a guy. Points him to the east at dawn and sodomizes the poor bastard. The only problem was that in reviewing the clips of his work from Death Wish and other hits, his acting is so bad out of context that it was downright silly.
AL: Sillier than a guy in a cowboy hat sawing off a head?
AL: What’s been the fallout after the leak?
SSS: You tell me. You’ve got a fix on the pulse of the public more than I do. The shit has certainly hit the fan, but it remains to see where it lands. In addition to all the human rights nuts, we have a variety of objections from live actors who are afraid they’ll be used for snuff videos in the future. I guess the real heartbreaker is that we may have lost this technique forever.
AL: Finally, from my understanding the video was actually used on several occasions with mixed results.
SSS: I’m not privy to the actual intelligence gleaned, but I do know that it worked in getting the Gitmos to talk. Although I hear one said he would be honored to die at the hands of Davy Crockett.