Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Deliberate Cruelty Is Not Forgivable
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   10/06/2006)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist used to lure stray cats into his home, feed them, pet them, then kill and operate on them, while practicing to be a surgeon. According to a Boston Globe article, and many other sources I could cite, including Frist's oft-quoted accounts, he did such things in order to get ahead at Harvard's tough medical school. When he ran out of strays he began visiting animal shelters and convincing personnel that he was there to find homes for pets.

George W. Bush used to stuff firecrackers in the mouths of living frogs, light them, and toss them into the air to watch them explode, according to childhood witnesses quoted in an article by Nicholas Kristof, May 21, 2000, in the New York Times.

Such evidence, buried deep in puff-piece stories, should have been warnings to us all. You don't put animal abusers in top positions of power. Psychologists will tell you that animal torture is often indicative of deep mental disturbances that can surface as public or private dramas years later. Others address such issues more simply.

“Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable,” Tennessee Williams wrote.

Evidence suggests the people in charge of our country and our world are either guilty of deliberate cruelty or else they're just incapable of empathy. How else do you explain our network of secret prisons complete with water boards, ceiling restraints, whipping wires, attack dogs, electrodes, and worse? How else do you explain efforts to legitimize such instruments during the past five years, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they're counter productive?

Research it yourself. Look up Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The lies we forced that mentally deranged man to tell during “aggressive interrogation” became a centerpiece in our case for the bombing, invasion and occupation of Iraq. Tens of thousands of corpses later, Congress shamelessly rubberstamps such techniques.

Cruetly? Lack of empathy?

How else do you explain photographs of Condoleezza Rice laughing and joking with the leader of Israel even as American-made missiles reduced much of Lebanon to rubble?

How do you explain Frist coming out in favor of making it legal once again to inflict deliberate pain upon Tennessee walking horses? Incredibly he used almost the same language in defense of this practice as he and Bush use when talking around the issue of torture. He said he wanted to “clarify” just what acts constitute “soring.” That's the practice of wounding horses so that they experience pain when walking. It's what makes them appear to prance so grandly. Others obtain similar results without the torture, I understand, but Frist evidently sees a need to allow some version of such practices to continue.

During Bush's short tenure as governor of Texas he oversaw the execution of 131 inmates, more than any other governor since capital punishment was made legal again in 1978. According to the June 11, 2000, Chicago Tribune, these included “inmates whose cases were compromised by unreliable evidence, disbarred or suspended defense attorneys, meager defense efforts during sentencing and dubious psychiatric testimony.” According to the Boston Globe they included the mentally retarded, the mentally deranged, the abused, the coerced and the born again. Quite probably they included innocent people.

O.K., maybe you see capital punishment as a necessary evil. Unfortunately, your president took a rather less thoughtful attitude toward it. Consider this piece of witnessing by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson, who interviewed Bush for Talk Magazine in September 1999.

“In the weeks before the execution, Bush says, a number of protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Karla Faye Tucker. `Did you meet with any of them?' I ask.

“Bush whips around and stares at me. `No, I didn't meet with any of them,' he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. `I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with Tucker, though. He asked her real difficult questions like, 'What would you say to Governor Bush?'

“`What was her answer?' I wonder.

“'Please,' Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation. `Don't kill me.'

“I must look shocked—ridiculing the pleas of a condemned prisoner who has since been executed seems odd and cruel—because he immediately stops smirking.”