Faisal Shahzad, the unsuccessful Times Square bomber, was hustled into a large auditorium by two beefy FBI officers. He had been in a state of complete mystification since early that morning, when his jailers had put him in a police van and carried him to the airport. The plane had taken off and he had been in the air for a couple of hours, but all he could tell was that the aircraft was flying in a southerly direction. When the plane landed, he was finally able to catch a glimpse of his destination: Knoxville, Tennessee. His handlers had then quickly whisked him away in another van to the campus of the University of Tennessee.
The auditorium – dark, save for the brightly-lit stage – was filled to capacity. Standing at the podium was an extraordinarily rotund man dressed in black academic robes, with a wide white collar. Shahzad had not been a close student of American history, but he had a vague recollection of the Mayflower from an illustrated textbook that he remembered studying in elementary school, and the man speaking looked like an enormous pilgrim. Or, perhaps, thought Shahzad (shifting metaphorical gears), like a gigantic black Labrador fitted with an E-collar to prevent him from chewing at an injury.
The man on the stage was droning on, in a lugubrious monotone, about oil spills and coal-fired generators and melting glaciers. The speech had bestowed a somnolent equality on the audience, as not only narcoleptics, but insomniacs, and regular eight-hours-a-night folks all dozed contentedly, the speaker’s words competing with the gentle buzz of mass snoozing, and the occasional hack of sleep apnea.
The horror of his situation dawned on Shahzad, as he saw the two FBI men clap noise-suppression devises on their ears. It wasn’t just any bore standing up there on the stage; it was Al Gore, giving the most depressing commencement speech in history. And Shahzad didn't have the luxury of dropping off to sleep like the graduating students; he now understood why his captors had been filling him up with coffee for the last three hours. He would have to listen to the whole thing!
“No!” he screamed. He instinctively tried to place his hands over his ears, but he couldn’t; his hands were handcuffed behind his back.
“No! Anything but this! Waterboarding! I demand to be waterboarded! Even better- I’ll just tell you everything you want to know right now!” The FBI men stood motionless, each gripping one of Shahzad’s arms, as Gore relentlessly plodded through his prepared remarks.
“Humidity is up four percent…sub-prime mortgage crisis…floods in Nashville…refugees from low-lying island nations…global economic crisis…”
The color drained from Shahzad’s face, and his knees buckled. The FBI agents let him drop to the floor, where he curled up in a fetal position, whimpering.
An hour later Shahzad regained consciousness in the back of the van. The terrible experience of having to listen to Al Gore’s speech came rushing back into his mind. He stifled a scream, and ever so slowly, began to calm down. Then, a smile spread across his face. Suddenly he was chuckling, then laughing uncontrollably. “Infidel fools!” he shouted. “The speech is over! I didn’t tell you anything!”
Agent Kowalski smiled, and held up a video tape, which he waggled in the air. “That’s ok, Faisal. When we get back to New York, you can listen to it all over again. And again. And again…”
Shahzad went limp in defeat. He knew that he would tell all. He turned his face to the side of the van and sobbed.