My six-year-old "son," whom I've yet to name, tossed and turned in the dresser drawer I'd converted into a bed. "What's wrong boy-I-refuse-to-acknowledge-as-mine-without-a-proper-paternity-test?" "Oh, nothing daddy," he said precociously, "just having trouble sleeping." "Well then," I said warmly, "why don't I read you a bedtime story?" My almost-son's eyes widened and a giant grin spread across his face. "That sounds great, daddy! What story?" "It's a new one," I told him, "just picked it up today."
"Hold on," the little boy interrupted. "Just so I'm clear, when you say his 'mean parents wouldn't allow him,' you're talking about international law, right? Like, it's international law that forbids Americans from using torture, so in the story when it complains about 'mean parents,' it's really about the international law?" I smiled at the small boy. "Well, aren't you precocious? But, yes, that's right, I suppose that's the comparison the book is going for." "Sort of an unfair metaphor, if you ask me. Takes a pretty complex situation and oversimplifies it to the point of absurdity, like it's forcing the reader to side with the-" "Look, kid, if you have a problem with the shady manipulation of language for the purposes of advancing an agenda, maybe I should stop reading this story now, because it's only gonna snowball from here." "No, no," the boy said, "please, keep going."
"Waterboarding, daddy? Is that like boogie-boarding, or surfing?" "Hahaha. My goodness, that's rich, what a precocious little notion. But no. Waterboarding is in no way like boogie-boarding, surfboarding or anything else you have ever or will ever experience in your sheltered, pampered life."
"So," the boy said, "they went to some outside consultants to decipher the anti-torture laws?" "Not consultants," I corrected, "a two headed monster." "Right... two-headed monster. But what if the two-headed monster was wrong in its interpretation? Or worse, deliberately wrong? Like corrupt, what if the two-headed monster was corrupt?" "Oh ho ho, you precocious little so-and-so, let's read on and find out!"
"Okay," said the boy, "this... I already have a problem with this."
"Nope," the boy said, "no, no, no. Uh uh. Nope." "Calm down, you precocious thing," I said. "It's just a fairy tale."
"Slow down for a second, daddy, this is... there's a lot, here. So, no one would be held accountable?" "According to Uncle Dicky's plan." "How would Uncle Dicky know to do that in advance? How would Uncle Dicky know to make a list with so much built-in wiggle room? And how would he know that Bybee Bradbury would see things his way? It all seems so convoluted. It just requires such tremendous foresight." Look at that vocabulary. Six-years-old. No way this kid's mine. "Well, son, in the way that a talented engineer can look at a broken computer and know exactly what to do to make it work, or in the way that Michelangelo can look at a slab of marble and in it see the magnificent Statue of David, Uncle Dicky can look at a terrorist, some crooked lawyers and a poorly-written international law regarding torture and see in it an airtight, effective plan for covering the collective ass of his administration." The boy scratched his head. "Did... did you just compare Dick Cheney to Michelangelo?" "In the field of heartless manipulation and ass-covery, yes, yes I did. Would you like me to keep reading?" "I guess. I just feel sort of sick, now, and dirty. Like, everywhere." "So precocious. I'm gonna keep reading."
"The end," I said, shutting the book. "Hold on, did it work? The waterboarding, I mean, was it worth it? What kind of information did we get out of Zubayah?" I mussed the boy's hair and laughed heartily. "Well someone's about to OD on precociousness, am I right? But, no, we don't know if it was worth it. The investigation as to whether or not we learned anything from Zubayah, as well as the usefulness of said knowledge, is ongoing. Some think the interrogation yielded some useful info that was integral in preventing several potentially dangerous terrorist attacks, but some high-ranking members of the intelligence community genuinely believe that Zubayah was certifiably insane and his involvement in al-Qaida didn't extend beyond making bombs and organizing transportation, and therefore couldn't possibly have any useful information to begin with." "What?!" "Oh yeah. I'll read you The One Percent Doctrine before you go to sleep tomorrow night, it'll blow your mind." "Wait," the little boy said, "wait just one goddamned fingerblasting second. THAT'S how the story ends? A ton of pages that's nothing but a bunch of language-manipulating, bureaucratic horseshit and we still don't even know if we learned anything? And the guy we tortured might even just be a delusional lunatic?" I mussed the boy's face and chuckled grandly. "Allegedly tortured," I corrected. "Also the lunacy was alleged, too, so, really, watch your word choice." The boy stared off, looking at nothing in particular. Tears were developing in his eyes and his lower lip started quivering. I could tell he was choking back sobs, trying to look like a big man in front of me. I poked his nose and made an accompanying "boop" sound before unplugging his nightlight. "Anyway, sweet dreams, Kid!"