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April 4, 2008


Noodling on the news — When the C-in-C calls


On the third planet from the sun, the New York Times wrote in an editorial,

[John C.] Yoo, who, inexplicably, teaches law at the University of California, Berkeley, never directly argues that it is legal to chain prisoners to the ceiling for days, sexually abuse them or subject them to waterboarding — all things done by American jailers.

His primary argument, in which he reaches back to 19th-century legal opinions justifying the execution of Indians who rejected the reservation, is that the laws didn’t apply to Mr. Bush because he is commander in chief.

Elsewhere, in a parallel universe, The Sink pulled his chair nearer to the window and looked out. The courtyard below was empty except for a few gardeners who were planting bushes for the afternoon’s brush-cutting. How he enjoyed that exercise! He was glad he’d instituted the custom when he moved into the Sink Hole.

But it was only 11:00, and he still had a few issues of state to solve before lunch. He perched his chin on his hand and sighed. “Sometimes,” he thought, “being The Sink stinks.”

He mentally leafed through the problems facing him. There were tremors in the economy, with stocks threatening to fall on Wall Street like Humpty Dumpty teetering on his wobbly perch. Not his fault. He’d done his best to calm things down. Time to sit tight and let the Sink 44 clean up the mess.

Those fellows in Iraq were at it again, threatening to tear each other and the entire country apart. Not his fault. He’d done his best to calm things down. Time to sit tight and let Sink 44 clean up the mess.

But there was that torture thing. He’d begun to hear rumors that people weren’t happy with the way he’d been treating prisoners. He’d done his best to calm things down, but somehow the old slogans weren’t working any more. He definitely didn’t want to sit tight and let Sink 44 clean up this mess, because he might be swept up in the process.

Once, several years ago, he thought he was safely barricaded behind a powerful set of legal arguments. What was the name of the nice young man who devoted so much time to the construction work? Oh, yes. John Mee. He’d called him Johnnycake.

But even though it was obvious that the arguments rested on firm historical precedents and even though they were cemented with fine constitutional reasoning, they caused a ruckus when they were finally made public. It would have been far better to have kept them secret, like so many of his other decisions. What people didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. It’s when they found out things that trouble started.

Maybe it was time to call on Mee’s services again. If his arguments were successful, Mee would become a hero. If they failed, he’d be run out of town for trying to subvert the government, but The Sink would escape unscathed. He could already see himself appearing on television, shaking his head ruefully at the misguided zeal of the youthful advisor.

Mee used to be in the capital, at the Department of Justice. But recently, the place had turned into a ghost town. Where had he gone?

A call to an aide provided the answer: “John Mee is now Inexplicable Professor of Constitutional Law at Guantanamo University. I’ve connected you.”

The Sink picked up the phone. “Johnnycake. Come back. I need you.”

       — Copyright Betsey Culp 2008