War Criminals Anonymous: A Play in One Act

Hope Kesselring


  • Ned Diamond – Former Assistant Secretary of State, in his sixties, wearing a WCA T-shirt and camouflage shorts.
  • Michelle Cardiff – CIA officer, about 40, wearing a red skirt suit.
  • Buster Bianchi – Lobbyist in his late fifties, wearing a dark suit and a tie festooned with cartoon characters.
  • Larry Overton – Art supply company CEO, late forties, wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants.
  • Blake Goodwin – Air Force officer, late thirties, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and jeans.


The basement of a pizza parlor in Washington, DC. The WCA members are seated around a large table with Ned at the head of it.


NED: (Bangs gavel.) I’d like to welcome everyone to the Tuesday night Atone for Drones group of War Criminals Anonymous. My name is Ned, and I’m a recovering massacrist.


NED: Let’s start this meeting with a moment of silence for all the war criminals out there still suffering in their addictions. (They bow their heads.) May they find their way to our rooms. Our founder-in-spirit, Smedley Butler, wrote:

EVERYONE TOGETHER: War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

NED: Michelle, would you read the Six Steps for us, please?

MICHELLE: Sure. I’m Michelle, and I’m a recovering torturer.

EVERYONE ELSE: Hi, Michelle!

MICHELLE: (Reading from sheet on the table.) One, we admitted we were war criminals. Two, we discovered a spiritual power could save us. Three, we made a list of our crimes. Four, we made amends to our victims. Five, we asked our spiritual power to forgive us and to remove all desire to commit war crimes. Six, we carried the message of recovery to other war criminals.

NED: Thanks, Michelle. I have a couple of announcements. The summer bake sale has been canceled due to the public’s fears of eating poisoned muffins. So instead we’re going to have a sidewalk fair to raise funds. Buster agreed to be the clown (Buster nods.) and we’ve restored Blake’s old whack-a-journalist game back to whack-a-mole. (Blake waves.) Also, the people we talked to said they’d be happy to pay for our pies, but only if they got to throw them in our faces, so we’re going to oblige them…


NED: Speaking of funds, (Passes a basket to Michelle.) we are a self-supporting group that refuses black budget cash on principle. I realize that many of us have issues with money hoarding, but please, folks, chip in a little for rent, coffee, and copies of War Is a Racket for the newcomers. Also, don’t put people’s gold teeth in the basket. We’ve had issues with that. (Ned throws a sharp look at Larry, who shifts uncomfortably.) Buster, would you do the chips?

BUSTER: Hi, I’m Buster and I’m a recovering sex trafficker.


BUSTER: Here at WCA, we have a chip system to mark the amount of time we’ve abstained from committing war crimes. The white chip is the desire chip. Does anybody have a desire to get clean?

BLAKE: I have a question about that. What if you were trying to drone some terrorists but got a wedding instead? Do you need to pick up a white chip?

LARRY: I’m pretty sure that’s a war crime.

BLAKE: Even if it was an accident?

MICHELLE: If your intention was to get terrorists, I think you’re okay.

NED: Talk to the Oversight Committee about it and get back with us. Go ahead, Buster.

BUSTER: OK. We’ve got a yellow one-month chip. Anybody? Next is the green chip. Anybody got six months clean? OK. A red chip for one year…

MICHELLE: (Jumps up from her seat.) Me!

EVERYBODY ELSE: (Clapping enthusiastically.) Keep coming back! It works if you work it.

MICHELLE: (Snatches the red chip, then backs away from Buster.) Thank you! I’m so grateful to this program for saving my life. A little over a year ago, I was at rock bottom. I had just overdone it with the electricity on a detainee’s genitals, and the doctor had to put him down. (Sighs.) Then it got leaked to the press. (Drops her head.) They called me Michelle Mayhem. It was so embarrassing. Even worse, after the detainee died, I kind of missed him.

BLAKE: I know how that feels. (Gazes at the ceiling dreamily.) Nadya…

MICHELLE: By working the Six Steps, I learned that it’s okay to feel my feelings. I don’t have to stuff them until they come out as enhanced interrogation. I’ve accepted that I have a spiritual sickness, and now I leave the torture up to God. I thought I tortured because my mother didn’t love me, but that’s not true. She was just a torturer, too. Through the spiritual gifts of this program, I’ve made peace with that, and now I’m thinking about becoming a mother myself. The only problem is that they won’t let me around the detainees anymore, so if you know any single fellas with a year clean, hit me up. (The men grimace and look away.)

NED: Thank you, Michelle. (She sits back in her seat.) This program works miracles if you work it. As most of you know, I’ve been clean for 25 years, and I’m proud to say that my wife is no longer afraid to sleep with me. (Everyone else claps, and he smiles.) Let’s pick a topic for the meeting. Does anyone have an issue they’d like to discuss?

BUSTER: I’ve been trying to work on my third step, but it’s hard because of my security clearance.

NED: That’s something you should go over with your sponsor. Though it is important for us to admit to our crimes, it’s also important to stay out of the pen. (Buster nods.)

LARRY: I’ve got something I’d like to talk about.

NED: Please introduce yourself.

LARRY: Hi, I’m Larry, and I’m a recovering pillager.


LARRY: Okay, here goes. The truth is, I’m really struggling. My work is no longer fulfilling to me. Art supplies are boring, and when I do get home, I almost always find dog piss all over the floor. I really, really want to go to a shithole country and take as many of their artifacts as I can get my hands on. (His eyes bug out as his hands mime gripping a cuneiform tablet.)

NED: I find that when I’m on my pity pot, it helps to develop an attitude of gratitude. So, let’s make “gratitude” the topic for this meeting. How does that sound? Blake, would you like to start?

BLAKE: Hi, I’m Blake, and I’m a recovering droner.


BLAKE: Well, I came into this program because they threatened me with the Hague after my girlfriend Maria broke up with me, and I droned a hospital with her in it. I’m very grateful that I’m not in prison. I’m also grateful that I can still hook up with nurses.

NED: It’s suggested in the program that you don’t enter into a relationship for the first year.

BLAKE: Relationship? I’m talking about booty calls. There was only one girl I hooked up with more than once. Nadya. Those Russian girls are something else. When I found a girl who was Russian and a nurse, well, I was really grateful. She was hot.

NED: Let’s try to keep it about the program.

BLAKE: Yeah. Um, I’m grateful to my spiritual power (Looks up at the ceiling.) for helping me get on better terms with my dad. It hurt my feelings for a long time that he sent me off to military school when I was 12, but now I realize he was just trying to protect my little sister. She still won’t talk to me, but I’m taking it one day at a time. Oh, and I’m grateful to the steps for helping me get, um, compassion for my victims. When you get off on crimes against humanity, it’s hard to think of targets as real people. Well, unless you’ve been banging them. (He winces and pauses.) I think I might need a white chip. (Stands, drags himself over to Buster and collects his chip.)

EVERYONE ELSE: (Clapping.) Keep coming back! It works if you work it.

BLAKE: (As he sits down, Michelle pats him on the shoulder. He buries his head in his hands.) This is so bad. Okay, it all began when Nadya started getting phone calls from Pakistan. I didn’t think much about it because she is, I mean was, Russian, so I figured it was espionage. But no. It was a fiance. I was so mad, I just couldn’t stop myself. I droned their wedding and told my boss it was an accident. It was just like with Maria. Oh God, I am an addict!

NED: Keep working those steps, Blake. Like Buster pointed out, the nature of our jobs can make working the steps hard. I had to resign from my position, and even then I couldn’t make amends in person because I’m banned from the country. But the steps are the meat and potatoes of this program, and I think you just did your first step. (He claps and the others join in.) Buster, would you like to share next?

BUSTER: First I’d like to say to Blake, congratulations on getting that white chip. Every journey starts with one step, am I right? (Blake nods.) As for work, after I got caught running that brothel in Haiti, by the grace of God I found this program and changed my life. I decided I wanted to help kids instead of hurting them, so now I do the pharma lobby to make sure they get all their vaccinations and mental health medications. I just love kids…

NED: OK, Buster, why don’t you tell us more about gratitude in recovery?

BUSTER: Sure. I’m grateful that somebody finally told me about the “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy” Bugs Bunny tattoo on my back, so I could have it removed. I guess I must have gotten it when I was drunk. (Shrugs.) Anyway, I used to get upset when the children bit me. I thought they were being ungrateful. Through WCA, I learned that, actually, I had been hurting them, and knowing that makes me a better person in society’s eyes. I even get invited to Thanksgiving dinners now by my child-free friends. I’m also grateful that I can still go to the park and feed the ducks, even though I have to stay 100 feet away from the playground part. Oh, and I’m looking forward to dressing up as a clown for the WCA street fair in the summer.

LARRY: (Turns to Ned.) Is that a good idea?

NED: He was the only one with a costume. Don’t worry, he’ll be supervised at all times.

BUSTER: (To Larry.) I forgive you for judging me. (To the rest of the group.) I’m grateful I’ve learned to forgive. I discovered forgiveness when I did my moral inventory.

NED: Thank you, Buster. Michelle, would you like to tell us what you’re grateful for?

LARRY: (Visibly annoyed.) Wait a second.

NED: It’s not your turn.

LARRY: No, I have something to say. I think you people are a lot sicker than I am. I’ve never killed anybody or even thought about it. I just had an unhealthy obsession with Indiana Jones. And I certainly am not a child molester!

BUSTER: I did not molest those children! (Wagging his finger.) You’re a smug bastard. I tell you what. If you don’t shut your trap, I’ll have my hacker buddy put compromising pictures of teenage girls on your laptop.

LARRY: I’ll kick your ass! (Larry leaps from his seat and takes a swing a Buster, who ducks and falls out of his chair.)

MICHELLE: (Getting between them.) Cool it, fellas.

BLAKE: (Clapping and laughing.) Way to make a meeting memorable!

NED: (Bangs gavel.) Sit down, everybody. (Buster and Michelle sit back in their chairs. Blake stops clapping and clears his throat.)

LARRY: I’ve had enough of this horseshit. (Turns and walks toward the door.)

NED: The judge said that if you get caught again he’ll give you no quarter.

LARRY: Oh, go set a peasant village on fire, you ghoul. (Slams the door on his way out.)

NED: (To Buster.) You’ve got to stop threatening to blackmail the other WCA members. You know that’s against the rules. (Buster crosses his arms and looks away.)

MICHELLE: I hope Larry comes back. It’s tough out there. In my first few months of recovery, I kept finding myself driving by detention centers.

NED: It’s essential to stay away from tempting people, places, and things. I had to quit hanging out with my old friends because they were in death squads.

BLAKE: I might have to find a new job.

MICHELLE: You like games, don’t you? (Blake nods.) I could maybe help you get on a team that’s designing a video game to recruit ISIS members. It’s called “Headhunter.”

BLAKE: That sounds promising.

NED: The possibilities are truly limitless in the WCA program.


NED: (Checking his watch.) It’s getting to be about that time. Does anyone have a burning desire?

MICHELLE: (Throws up a finger.) I’ve been thinking about the fundraising fair. What if we had a bobbing for apples booth?

BUSTER: That sounds fun. I bet the kids would like it.

BLAKE: (To Ned.) Is that too much like waterboarding?

NED: I don’t think so, as long as nobody is pushing heads down into the water. Why don’t you bring it up at the business meeting next week? (Michelle nods.) Good. Well, I think it’s time for the closing prayer. (They all stand up and hold hands, forming a circle.) God…

EVERYONE: (They bow their heads.) God, grant us the ability to refrain from committing crimes against humanity, and help us to find our way in this war-torn world so that we may experience peace and love in our hearts, amen. (They lift their heads and shake their hands up and down with the rhythm of the words.) Keep coming back! It works if you work it. (They unlock hands. Ned gathers up the WCA meeting accoutrements, and the other members start moving toward the door.)

BUSTER: I don’t know about you guys, but I sure could go for a cheese pizza.

BLAKE: I’m hungry, too.

MICHELLE: I know this great Iranian place around the corner.

BUSTER: Iranian?

NED: Don’t go there.

MICHELLE: Ned, you’re such a stickler. We’re just going to have kebabs.

NED: That could be a slippery slope. As you all know, I have…

EVERYONE ELSE: Twenty-five years clean. (They laugh.)

BLAKE: (Pulls his phone out of his pocket and looks at it.) Oh no.

BUSTER: What is it?

BLAKE: Larry just got busted at the Smithsonian for looting.

NED: (Shakes his head.) Grandiosity gets them every time. Well, who wants to go with me on a sixth step call?

BUSTER: Not me.

BLAKE: Museums creep me out. (Motions to Buster.) Let’s get a pizza.

BUSTER: Sounds good. (As they exit, he whispers to Blake.) Is Chuck E. Cheese OK with you?

BLAKE: Do they have hot waitresses?

NED: Just get a slice upstairs. (Buster and Blake nod and hurry out the door.)

MICHELLE: I guess that leaves me.

NED: Do you happen to have any old jewelry or coins in your purse?

MICHELLE: Maybe. Why?

NED: Sometimes it helps calm them down to give them a taste of their crime. You can just leave it in front of him and look away. After he steals it, he might be ready to listen to us and come back into the program.

MICHELLE: (Digging through her bag.) Well, I do have these. (She halts, embarrassed.)

NED: What are they?

MICHELLE: (Holds up an iron contraption.) Thumbscrews. I got them in Salem when I went to that conference in Boston last month.

NED: I’ll take them. (Snatches them out of her hand and shakes his head.) I swear, newcomers will be the death of me. Come on, let’s go. (As they leave, he turns off the light and shuts the door.)


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Gezzah Potts
Gezzah Potts
Feb 25, 2019 3:30 AM

Excellent Hope, and yes, these Neocon nutjobs are in fact…. Addicts. And they won’t stop until they hit rock bottom, and seek help from War Criminals Anonymous. They are fully addicted to power and control and wealth. In the similar groups I went to for over 18 years, it was very common to hear members say: unless an addict seeks help, their fate is jails, institutions or death. Unfortunately tho, in this context, we know all about international law, and if your name is Tony Blair, Dubya Bush, Daddy Bush, John McCain, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Droner Obama, etc etc, we know that jail is most certainly Not on the cards, in fact, you get to walk round scot free. And make lots of money at the same time. And even have friends like the wonderful humanitarian Richard Branson who cares so much about the immense suffering in Yemen and… Read more »

Feb 24, 2019 10:37 AM

The Grauniad circle of wankers is in need of a urgent session this weekend – LaevilHyde has stuffed her goodJekyll up the chimney and has gone cackling psycho, driven to foaming rage at Gorgeouses comparission of the AS attack on JC as Goebllian propaganda – no Mardina, that doesn’ mean it has to be targetted at Jews or commies or gypsies or mouthy feminists .. to be a valud comparision. Her fellow groupies In-Cohen-rant and ‘Ridiculous’ Rawnsley equally jizzing over the public at the sight of Labour defectors – meaning that JC must obviously go! Because they think so. Again. Like the first orchestrated resignation on the days immediately following the brexit result – didn’t bother handwringing or demanding that the mandate wasn’t compelling enough to proceed, but the only prriority was the removal of the elected leader – and the second orchestrated chickencoup using members funds in highcourt case… Read more »

Some Random Passer-by
Some Random Passer-by
Feb 24, 2019 10:53 AM
Reply to  DunGroanin


Haven’t read any of his pieces since he told me to fuck off.

He’s one of the best examples I know for selling out. A whore in its truest sense.

harry stotle
harry stotle
Feb 24, 2019 11:00 AM
Reply to  DunGroanin

One can imagine a similar therapy group consisting of remorseful Guardian journalists finally taking ownership not just of the untruths they have told but the consequences arising from the geopolitical ideology they subscribe to (liberal interventionism).

Have they ever been on the right side of anything?
Breakaway MPs?

Gezzah Potts
Gezzah Potts
Feb 25, 2019 5:12 AM
Reply to  DunGroanin

DunGroanin: Well, good sir, I think your rant is perfectly pithy with a good dose of Victor Meldrew and Basil Fawlty thrown in. I had a couple of giggles while reading it. Seriously tho, can things possibly get any more surreal? By the way, your rant gets an 8.5 from me. Cheers….

Feb 25, 2019 7:36 PM
Reply to  Gezzah Potts

Cheers Ghezza, Hopes more thought through creation inspired me to let the spleen through to the thumbz.

It feels good to let it out and even better to know other readers get it! Therapy.

harry stotle
harry stotle
Feb 24, 2019 9:50 AM

As Jesse so memorably said in Breaking Bad ‘If you just do stuff and nothing ever happens, what does it all mean?’
(fabulous piece BTW)

Hugh O'Neill
Hugh O'Neill
Feb 25, 2019 10:26 PM
Reply to  harry stotle

Knock-out! First the article and then this clip. What a perfect match: superb writing and brilliant drama. Both pieces are Morality Plays i.e. “there is something [deeply] rotten in the State of Denmark” which has fostered the darkest parts of humanity to grow but because of zero accountability, they flourish. But despite that, they must know in their hearts that they are wrong. Somehow the ‘banality of evil’ allows a self-deluding veil to compartmentalise such evil, but veils can slip. Morality plays for our times. Perhaps, only literature can truly paint the portrait of Dorian Gray. One also suspects that all the psychological research funded by the CIA was purely intended to weaponise these intrinsic flaws within the Human Condition e.g. Milgram, and Stanford Prison etc. (“We have met the enemy, and he is us”). One also suspects that the main reason for 23 US war veteran suicides each day… Read more »

Fair dinkum
Fair dinkum
Feb 24, 2019 9:08 AM

Does this story have a happy ending?
Or will it be like the ugly, self centred world we live in.