Apologies to Fyodor Dostoevsky
May 25, 2002
By Rita Weinstein
you know, Alyosha-don't laugh! I made a poem. If you can waste
another ten minutes on me, I'll tell it to you. You will be
my first listener. Shall I tell it to you?" smiled Ivan.
"I'm all attention," said Alyosha.
"My poem is called 'The Attorney General'; it's a ridiculous
thing, but I want to tell it to you. It is laid in Cuba, in
Guantanamo, in the heady days when it seemed America had routed
the Taliban, and the war to save civilization was already
won. In the days when the enemies of civilization were taken
to be imprisoned forever, whether judged guilty by the tribunal
The Attorney General himself traveled south to inquire of
the detainees, since none of the usual attempts to gather
information had yielded anything useful.
It had been a long and difficult day under the merciless
Caribbean sun. Standing beneath the first glimmer of stars
on this dank tropical evening, the Attorney General primly
dabbed the moisture from his brow with a spotless linen pocket
kerchief, oppressed by a growing sense of being blocked in
his mission. Neither starvation nor isolation had weakened
the satanic faith of the prisoners; therefore, he asked his
own God, the true God, for the strength, the wisdom, nay,
the very words with which to pierce the dark heart of the
next prisoner-the final one of the day-with the light of Western
"Certainly, a predictable request for a religious man," said
Alyosha. "Yes, and with this request, the poem begins," answers
"Returning to his concrete bunker, the Attorney General sends
his aide, a sweat-drenched, dark-skinned US Marine, for a
fresh pitcher of ice water. The light of the bare bulb overhead
makes his eyes ache, and the air in the windowless room is
stale, despite the electric fan that rotates noisily on a
steel, government-issue file cabinet in the corner.
Suddenly, the room goes dark, and the fan coasts to a rattling
stop. A moment later, the door to the room opens, revealing
an even more solid darkness out in the hallway outside. A
young, masculine voice speaks reassuringly. "Nothing to be
worried about, sir. Happens at least once a day. Should be
coming back on in a--" The light suddenly goes on again. Blinking
rapidly, the Attorney General sees framed in the doorway the
last prisoner of the day, carefully shackled, an armed guard
close beside. Just behind them is the aide, carrying a white,
plastic carafe of water.
The prisoner is of an indeterminate age, as they all have
been. A harsh life spent outdoors quickly erases all traces
of youth. Although his beard shows possibly a thread or two
of gray. His eyes remain downcast, he doesn't even glance
at this new interrogator as the guard leads him to a seat
at the government-issue table and then takes up a defensive
position at the door. The aide places the carafe at the Attorney
General's elbow, beside a single manila file folder, then
The Attorney General opens the folder, scans through it quickly,
stopping at an item of interest. "You were born in Bethlehem."
A statement, not a question. The prisoner does not speak.
"There is nothing in the space marked 'Religion.' Why haven't
you answered the question?"
The prisoner looks up at the Attorney General, looks at him
so directly, it seems a startling effrontery, although the
Attorney General can't think why. In fact, he suddenly can't
think at all. His throat closes as he attempts to speak into
that glance, so he quickly pours some water into a cup and
just as quickly swallows. But the drink has the opposite effect
of what was intended, as the Attorney General begins to cough.
He stands and looks into the cup in disbelief, then looks
at the prisoner, who merely looks evenly at him.
"Sir, are you alright?" asks the guard.
"Yes," sputters the Attorney General, sitting again. "In
fact, I want you to leave us. I'll send for you when I'm finished
with the prisoner."
"Yes, sir. Should I bolt the door behind me?"
"Whatever you think best. But don't come back until I send
for you. I don't want to be interrupted."
The guard leaves, and the sound of a bolt is heard. "How
dare You?" the Attorney General demands angrily. "I haven't
touched a drop of alcohol in nearly 50 years, and You dare
trick me like this?" The prisoner smiles.
"Yes, I suppose You would think turning water into wine is
a great joke on me. And I suppose you expect me to fall to
my knees now that You've given me a miracle. But as far as
I'm concerned, You were taken on the battlefield as an enemy
of all I value, and to me that is all You are-the enemy. What
were You doing there, anyway--trying to teach peace? Trying
to end the conflict? When You know as well as I do that this
conflict is our only means of establishing Your kingdom here
on Earth? How dare You come back only to hinder us? You have
no right, do you hear me?
"Oh, yes, Prince of Peace and all that, it's all well and
good. And I suppose You'd like to take the guns from the hands
of every single person who's fighting this fight-on both sides.
Is that Your idea of freedom? You, who ran and hid when the
multitudes tried to make you King by force-is that your idea
of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven?"
"Why is the Attorney General so angry, so adamant? And what
are the charges against the prisoner, anyway?" asked Alyosha.
"Charges? Why, they're secret, as is the evidence, of course.
One can't be too careful in such dangerous times. But the
charges have nothing to do with the Attorney General's anger,
as you will see," replied Ivan.
"Ah, You are still silent. Good. You said quite enough 2,000
years ago. I will have You locked away, of course. No crucifixion,
no publicity this time. This time You will die a silent death
in total obscurity. No one but I will ever know You were here.
And what if they were to find out? I can assure you they wouldn't
care. When we exchange stones for bread for the poor of the
world, they follow us. When we take control of the commerce
of the nations, they worship us. And when we cast ourselves
from the high places, our technology keeps us from so much
as stubbing a toe."
"Stop!" commanded Alyosha, "That is utterly sacreligious!
Do you mean to say that the Attorney General admits to embracing
the three temptations of the devil? Never! That would mean
he does not believe in God! Impossible!" "Consider, dear brother.
This is a man who anoints himself because he fears no one
else will. A man who breaks the very law he has sworn to uphold
because he fears there is no justice. A man who suppresses
free speech because he fears the truth has no real power.
A man who believes that men and women must arm themselves
because he fears that people in actuality are powerless, and
were not at all created in God's image. This man truly has
not a shred of belief in God the Almighty or in His works.
Now may I finish my story?"
"Only if you're quick about it. This is most distressing,"
"Well, the ending is thus.
The prisoner simply says--nothing. He just goes on gazing
at the Attorney General with a look so loving, so kind, so
accepting that no words are even necessary. Yet the Attorney
General, for all his love of his own power, is not satisfied.
He must have something from the one he is about to condemn
to a life apart from all human contact.
"Don't look at me like that," he says. "Is it our fault that
You dropped the ball, so that now the world is enslaved to
the pursuit of earthly bread? We have at least filled the
vacuum You left. You should thank us for doing it in Your
name! Had You taken up the sword of Rome, our hands would
now be clean. What, nothing? You still have nothing to say?
Well, then I say to the devil with you. Remember me to Your
Father when you finally die alone in Your cell. This is the
last face you will ever see."
The prisoner stands finally, and comes closer to the Attorney
General, looking so very intently into his face. He comes
even closer, but, because the Attorney General does not believe
in God, he has no fear of Him, so he stands his ground without
flinching or looking away. The prisoner then softly kisses
the Attorney General on his thin, bloodless lips. "GUARD!!!
Guard!" screams the Attorney General.
The door is quickly unbolted and flung open, as the Attorney
General swipes furiously at his mouth.
"Get this homo out of here!!!"
The prisoner disappears into the Caribbean night. His appeal
even now languishes in Third District Court.
Rita Weinstein is a freelance writer and playwright.