How the year does cycle round! The holidays are already upon us and, before you know it, you’ll be desperate for gift ideas. Next year, we, here at Tomdispatch, are planning to do our duty and roll out a real seasonal commercial bonanza for TD readers. Unfortunately, the factory at which we expected to produce our new line of products, including — in honor of the coming Congressional investigation season — Bush Administration Mug Shot Mugs and a whole line of Tomdispatch sports apparel for the computer-impaired, got outsourced before we could purchase it. But wait until next year — and, in the meantime, lawyers and lovers of constitutional rights among you might pay a visit to Illegalbriefs.com (“Be a lawyer, don’t dress like one”), the amusing website of a former student of mine, where you can purchase “I [heart] Habeas” T-shirts and other less mentionables.
Fortunately, Tomdispatch did release two perfect stocking-stuffers just in time for the holiday season. For anyone eager to indict the President and his cohorts, a year-ending must-have is former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega’s Tomdispatch book, United States v. George W. Bush et al., launched from this site only two weeks ago and already #33 on the New York Times nonfiction paperback bestseller list! Check out De la Vega’s hilarious appearance on The Colbert Report (here and here) as well as the “Wings of Justice Award” that Buzzflash.com just gave her, and then rush to Amazon.com or the website of independent publisher Seven Stories Press and get one for everybody you know and love.
For those of you who would like a little extra company of a special sort — a provocative thinker or two ready to sit down to a Holiday feast with you or entertain your New Year’s visitors — there’s Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters. In addition, by buying both books in staggering quantities, you’ll experience the holiday cheer of knowing that you are supporting this site for all you’re worth. Now, prepare yourself for a pre-holiday treat, our traditional Nick Turse seasonal festival of suggestions, this year on how to get away in style. ~ Tom
On Holiday for the Holidays: A Christmas Travel Guide
By Nick (“Tongue Firmly in Cheek”) Turse
Back in 2003, Tomdispatch offered you a list of “Hot as Depleted Uranium Toys for a New Imperial Age.” In 2004, we gave you the inside scoop on how to “Make It a Merry Military-Corporate Christmas.” And last year, it was all about timeless holiday values like militarism, jingoism, and barbarism, as Tomdispatch wished you an “All-American Christmas.”
This year — instead of offering a buyers guide to Christmas favorites like the instantly classic T-shirt with Santa brandishing an automatic rifle, or the mouse pad featuring a B-52 bomber festooned with Christmas decorations, or even the children’s “Peacekeepers” play set in which nearly all 100 accessories appear to be bazookas, rifles, pistols, mortars, grenades, mines, and other accoutrements we regularly associate with peace on Earth — Tomdispatch will provide you with your own special holiday travel guide (with all the tips you need for that quick seasonal getaway). So find your passport, pack your bags, and let us transport you with a holiday travel guide so complete it can’t be beat.
Unless you’re the recipient of an all-expenses paid, CIA extraordinary-rendition flight, this holiday season is guaranteed to mean long lines at the airport and intrusive baggage searches. To minimize scrutiny and lower your score on the Department of Homeland Security’s recently revealed Automated Targeting System (the massive, data-mining operation that generates passenger terrorism ratings to be held for 40 years and shared with everyone but you), Tomdispatch recommends that you leave your “Suspected Terrorist” T-shirt at home. You might, however, consider donning Rightwing.com’s Uncle Sam shirt that reads: “I’ll give you jihad you miserable rag-headed heathen bastards” — it’s almost certainly government approved). Here, though, are our special recommendations for airport wear that will truly get you places:
Homeland Security Gold Mini Shield Cufflinks: The seller of these “collectible Goldtone Metallic Cufflinks with a Gold on Gold Metallic Mini Shield displaying” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) logo says they are “a collectible only and do not convey any special privileges.” Okay, so wearing them you might not allow you to totally bypass airport security — and that metal detector might even go off. Still, once security personnel see these fine fashion accessories, body-cavity searches are guaranteed to be out the window.
Homeland Security DHS Mini Shield & Gold Neck Chain: Like the cufflinks, this Homeland Security bling doesn’t give you privileges per se, but TSA inspectors will be so mesmerized by this upscale example of national-security jewelry that they might not even bother to rifle through your bags. Anyway, why should Mrs. Chertoff be the only one to look DHS-fabulous this holiday season? So get this gold-plated charm and chain for your ball and chain this Christmas and help your loved one speed through airport checkpoints.
Transportation Security Administration/Homeland Security Uniform: Don the “TSA Inspector” shirt, baseball cap, similarly logo-emblazoned windbreaker, and a replica TSA badge and you might just be able to bypass the lines entirely — one way or another. If you’re successful, you’ll walk right through the employee entrance, no fuss, no muss. If not, expect a special tropical vacation in sunny Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Either way, it’ll be a travel adventure.
Fly the Friendly Spies
If you’ve had it with the shoddy practices of commercial airlines — like JetBlue’s decision to hand over your itinerary to a Pentagon contractor and bar you from flying for wearing a t-shirt with Arabic script or U.S. Airways’ practice of engaging in religious and ethnic profiling — and are looking for far more efficient styles of air travel, check out these boutique companies offering a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
Bayard Foreign Marketing: A shadowy CIA front company run by a fictitious person, Bayard is the “owner of a U.S.-registered Gulfstream V executive jet reportedly used since Sept. 11, 2001″ to transport CIA-kidnapped people to be tortured in foreign lands. Tomdispatch travel tip: When you book your flight with Bayard, you’ll want to refrain from requesting the Halal meal (it’s probably drugged). It’s also safer to say “no” to the complimentary headphones (given the government’s penchant for employing “earsplittingly loud music,” aka “torture music.”)
Premier Executive Transport Services Inc: The previous owner of Bayard’s Gulfstream V, Premier is another CIA front company whose executives might not exist — but don’t let that stop you. Request their rendition adventure package, then sit back and relax. One extraordinary day, when you least expect it, black-clad men will surround you, mace you, stuff you in an orange jumpsuit, toss you in an unmarked van, drug you, drive you to a “ghost plane,” and whisk you off to the exotic locale of your dreams. Let names like Tashkent or Baku dance through your brain. Think the ancient Silk Road (or just chains and a cold concrete prison cell in Afghanistan’s charming “Salt Pit”). Who knows where you’ll actually end up, or for how long, or if the physical, let alone, psychological pain will ever subside? Not us. But if you want a story sure to trump all your friends’ holiday travel nightmares, then this is the vacation for you.
Jeppesen International Trip Planning: Need a world-class travel agent to arrange those last minute holiday flights, hotels, and the like? Look no further than Jeppesen International, a Boeing subsidiary which, according to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, plans some of the CIA’s “secret u2018extraordinary rendition’ flights for terrorism suspects.” Bob Overby, the managing director of Jeppesen, has reportedly crowed, “We do all of the extraordinary rendition flights — you know, the torture flights.” All?! C’mon Bob, don’t be such a braggart! But, seriously, if you want experienced travel agents who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, think Jeppesen.
America: Love It and Leave It
The superpatriot axiom has always been: America, love it or leave it! But that line of thinking is so hopelessly narrow-minded. After all, real Americans have always been internationalists. Think: the Philippines, Haiti, Nicaragua, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos for starters. When you’ve been so active abroad, staying at home means missing all the fun. After all, what good is it being an American, if you can’t head for Hiroshima wearing a patriotic T-shirt like “USA: We Got the Nukes!” or one with a mushroom cloud that reads: “Made in America, Tested in Japan.”
Of course, some people really want to go where the seasonal action is. Luckily, the military makes that easy. Just enlist in the Army, request the infantry, and you have a virtual guarantee of a holiday season in Baghdad or Kabul. If you don’t believe Tomdispatch, just visit the U.S. Central Command’s Afghanistan website and click on: “Newcomers Kabul Fact Sheet.”
Centcom starts off by noting the obvious — that the “trip to Kabul, Afghanistan is exhausting”; in other words, so incredibly fun-filled that it will positively wear you out. And no wonder! “Total travel time normally takes 3—7 days…”
On your end-of-the-world dream trip to Kabul, “at some point you arrive at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan,” playground for the (fighter) jet set. Then, it’s on to that old jewel of the Russian occupation of the 1980s, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan (and, don’t forget, you’re also retracing the steps of Alexander the Great!) I know what you’re saying: How much more could there possibly be? But you’re only getting started.
Your globetrotting ends when you arrive at “Camp Eggers compound” — “a series of buildings with a diverse population” just “next door to [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai’s palace.” Talk about swanky digs! You’ll soon remember why you embarked on this seasonal jaunt, helped along by the “high altitude [that] may take some people time to get used to” in a land where “very dry summers are hot, and winters are very cold with a lot of snow.” Think of it as the Aruba of Central Asia.
You’re probably ready to run out to the nearest recruiting station this minute — but take a breath, dear reader. You haven’t even heard about the amenities available for holiday travelers in the military (nor, I bet, taken the mandatory malaria meds that sometimes “can cause psychotic episodes”).
First off, consider that scenic Camp Eggers stroll down “Gator Alley” at the end of which you’ll find the “Warrior Gym.” Or, if a long voyage, has left you yearning for fine dining, then you’ll just hustle over to the “the Goat House” where “meals are currently served by a civilian contractor, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR).” Or check out the “Goat House Annex” where a massive bank of 10—12 phones will allow you (and every other member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines on location) to call home with good tidings. And don’t forget the well-appointed “Bomb House” recreation center — featuring “two pool tables, a foosball table, and two dart boards.”
If the camp’s festive surroundings prove too limited for you, then just head off base to the lovely Kabul Golf Club. In 2004, Tomdispatch recommended an annual membership there for a mere 7,500 Afghanis — just $160. If you didn’t get in on the ground floor then, you’ll pay double the price now — 15,000 Afghanis or $300, but still a bargain. After all, the formerly landmine-laden course is, its website claims, “now free of u2018some’ of the military hazards.” Plus, for $5 extra you get not one but — count ‘em — two indigenous child caddies: “a bag caddie to carry your clubs up and down the hills, and also a fore caddie who’ll run forward to spot where your ball lands.” You’ll feel, if not like Alexander, then just like a British colonial occupier-of-old. “When’s the last time you enjoyed such luxury?,” the site asks. When, indeed?
But you’re surely tired by now. Luckily for you, the “School House Basement” is at hand with a plush, two-man, 13ft x 4ft room or, if too many other revelers are on hand, you may bunk down with as many as eight jovial fellow vacationers in a well-appointed Camp Eggers suite.
If the sheer fun Camp Eggers offers wears you out, you’ve got plenty of other options via the military’s posh Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) resort system. Why not hop a military transport to any number of countries the U.S. has bombed, shelled, or laid waste to in the past, to kick back and relax? Consider:
The New Sano: Offering “149 luxurious rooms,” a new fitness center, “a heated swimming pool, sun deck, Jacuzzi, children’s pool, and his and her saunas,” a stay in this “American-style MWR oasis in downtown Tokyo” allows you to immerse yourself in real Japanese culture by eating at: Wellingtons, a Federalist decor restaurant that serves such traditional local fare as “Beef Wellington, Veal Scaloppini or Twin Lobster Tails”; or a tad more downscale, check out Hero’s sandwich shop, where you can get traditional Japanese hamburgers and pizza.
Edelweiss Lodge and Resort: Who needs to watch The Sound of Music this holiday season when you can check into this “idyllic location nestled at the foot of sweeping Alpine vistas”? Not only does this U.S. military resort in Germany offer: a grand ballroom, sports lodge, multiple restaurants, an indoor pool, a “wellness center”, wet and dry saunas, and outdoor hot tub as well as a “vacation village and campgrounds,” but you can even tee off at “one of Germany’s most beautiful golf courses…the breathtaking Alpental Golf Course [which] provides for an exhilarating game and a tour of the Loisach Valley’s highlights of waterfalls, rushing river, towering Alps and lush green landscape.”
Dragon Hill Lodge: Located in Seoul, South Korea, this resort offers nearly 400 guestrooms, authentic Korean restaurants (like Pizza Hut, Subway and Oasis as well as “a full service restaurant and brewery featuring your choice of American or Mexican favorites…”), two bars, a health club, and videogame arcades. And, on the first clear day, you can head north to the DMZ for a fabulous view of any future North Korean nuclear tests or the odd Taepodong-2 missile wobbling overhead on its way to a landing in the Sea of Japan.
Whichever resort you choose, make sure to sit back, relax, and forget the worries of the two wars currently being lost amid evidence of the good old days when the U.S. military was truly supreme.
Spies Like Us
For the discerning holiday traveler, who demands only the best — in careers and accommodations — skip that local recruiting office and head directly for Langley, Virginia. Just to give you a sense of what’s in store for you, as early as Christmas season 2008, consider the Italian getaway package that Jeppesen International or other CIA travel agents arranged for the CIA kidnappers of Egyptian cleric Mustafa Omar Nasr back in 2003.
Here were just a few of the places our own stressed-out James Bonds got to visit (all-expenses picked up by U.S. taxpayers) while planning, carrying out, and recovering from their extraordinary rendition adventure. So feel free to begin to dream… right now:
Start with the posh Milan Westin Palace where, for about $390 per night, you’ll enjoy your richly appointed “classic room,” sporting “classic Italian dcor… [and] contemporary amenities for your relaxation, including signature Heavenly Bed and a flat-screen television.” While there, you can also enjoy their “new fitness centre, housing two Turkish Baths… four treatment rooms [that] offer a variety of services, including those designed specifically for couples” and “the essence of Mediterranean cuisine at [the] renowned Casanova Grill Restaurant.”
From the Westin, wheel that tax-financed rental car over to the Hotel Principe di Savoia, also in Milan — the perfect place for civil servants on a budget — which “features a marble-lined spa” and “minibar Cokes that cost about $10.” Check in and head to the spa for a facial with “special treatment” (cost: $210), a hot stone massage (cost: $170), or an hour of “modeling breast treatment” to “tone up and model the bust” (giveaway cost: $70). This Xmas season, that executive suite — the perfect thing for the traveling kidnapper — will cost someone other than you almost $2000 per night; so, be prepared to drop at least $42,000 at the hotel just as the CIA did back in 2003, but know in your hot-stone-massage of a heart that it will be worth it.
If that’s not enough pampering for one operation, then drop in on the Ligurian Riviera seaside resort town of La Spezia for a short romp, just like the cohabitating male and female CIA agents did back then, or like them pay a restful visit to top spots in Florence, Tuscany, and Tyrol in the Italian Alps. What’s left to say but Buon viaggio!
Okay, so you don’t happen to find Italian such a melodic language. We all have our tastes — and the CIA is ready and willing to accommodate. Why not, for instance, ask Jeppesen to send you on the journey they planned out for the CIA kidnappers of Khaled el-Masri, the “German car salesman who was apparently mistaken for an Al Qaeda suspect with a similar name” in 2004. Make sure you let them know, though, that you don’t want the Masri treatment (being stripped naked and shackled by masked men before being forced onto a Boeing 737 business jet) and instead want to be treated just like the CIA kidnap team that, after dumping Masri in an Afghan prison, jetted off to “the resort island of Majorca [Spain] where, for two nights, crew members stayed at a luxury hotel, at taxpayers’ expense.”
There, on the sunny Mediterranean island, you’ll live it up at one of two hotels reported to be CIA faves: the Gran Melia Victoria, which offers “junior suites” for $770 per night or “grand suites” for just under $1,600 per night, or the 5-star Mallorca Marriott Son Antem Golf Resort & Spa with its two 18-hole courses and a “Holistic Lifestyle Spa.” As you leave, don’t forget to order up (just as your fellow spooks have done before you)”three bottles of fine Spanish wine, and five crystal glasses from Mallorcair, one of the plane’s ground handling agents — [as] refreshments for the flight home” and charge it to the ever grateful American taxpayer.
Home(land) for the Holidays
Tomdispatch takes genuine pleasure in providing this indispensable holiday-season travel guide for you. But we also know that, no matter how great the trip — like an innocent man kidnapped off the streets, flown halfway around the world, locked in a cage, humiliated, abused, tortured, and held incommunicado for a few years — you’ll eventually want to come home. It’s only natural, given the glories of the US of A. So, as is Tomdispatch tradition, we leave you with new lyrics to a holiday song that celebrates this great homeland of ours — sung to the tune of the 1954 classic “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays” made famous by Perry Como:
(There’s No Place Like) the Homeland for the Holidays
Oh, there’s no place like the homeland for the holidays,
‘Cause the NSA will always tap your phone,
If you want to be spied on in a million ways,
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.
I met a man who lives in Tennessee,
And he was fearful of
harassment by the U-S-F-B-I,
From Pennsylvania, folks are being
tracked to Dixie’s sunny shore,
From Atlantic to Pacific,
the surveillance is horrific.
Oh, there’s no place like
the homeland for the holidays,
‘Cause with toothpaste they may not let you roam
When you fit the profile
they throw you in a cage,
For the holidays, you can’t beat
Home, sweet home.
Oh there’s no place like the homeland for the holidays,
’cause overhead there’s always
If you want to be locked up for a million days
For the holidays, you can’t beat
Home, sweet home
Tom Engelhardt [send him mail] is editor of TomDispatch.com, a project of the Nation Institute. He is the author of several books, including The Last Days of Publishing: A Novel, The End of Victory Culture, and most recently, Mission Unaccomplished (Nation Books), the first collection of Tomdispatch interviews. His new blog is The Notion. Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com. He has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice, and regularly for Tomdispatch. Articles from his recent Los Angeles Times series, “The War Crimes Files,” can be found here.