It is not easy to be the secretary of defense. Don Rumsfeld said as much the other day. He was so busy with damage control over the Iraq prison scandal that he didn't have time to fight the war.

"Mr. Secretary, you are due at the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9. They're going to ask you how high up the chain of command the torturing of prisoners went."

"Colonel, I'll tell them we're investigating this right now, and as soon as we find out who's responsible we'll act according to military regulations."

"Yes, sir. Don't get the Senate Armed Services Committee mixed up with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will ask about reports from the Red Cross that you did nothing when you heard about the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison."

"That's a trick question. I'll say I didn't know what was going on because I was more concerned about what our soldiers were doing to the inmates at Guantanamo Bay. I can only handle one prison at a time."

"Now at 3 o'clock you will go over to the House, where the International Relations Committee will ask you to explain why the Geneva Conventions don't apply when we're trying to get intelligence out of prisoners who won't play by the rules."

"I expect the Democrats to ask me that because it makes a good headline. If George Washington had observed the Geneva Conventions, he never would have won the Revolutionary War."

"No wonder everyone says you're so fast on your feet, Mr. Secretary. At 6 tonight you will appear in front of the Joint Senate-House Budget Committee to explain what you want to do with the $25 billion you're asking for."

"It's none of their business."

"I wouldn't say that, sir."

"I'll say they are picky, picky, picky."

"I wouldn't say that. I would say you need the money to stay the course."

"That's the president's favorite line."

"Sir, I don't think he would mind if you lifted it. Now, at the end of the day I have you down for a news conference. Here's a list of the reporters who will throw you softballs. And here are photos of antiwar correspondents who can't be trusted. Don't recognize them."

"When can I eat dinner?"

"Not until you appear on television with Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather to talk about the torture photos being released to the news media."

"What should I say?"

"They are disgusting, horrifying, blood-curdling and in bad taste. They are also un-American. But war is a dirty business and things happen."

"What else do you have?"

"Now sir, on Sunday you appear on 'Meet the Press,' 'Face the Nation,' Fox News with Chris Wallace, CNN with Wolf Blitzer and any Arab TV network that will have you."

"What else?"

"There is a national security meeting Sunday night at Camp David, and after the meeting you and Secretary Powell can roast marshmallows."

"It sounds like fun. When do I get to run the war?"

"At the moment it's not on your schedule, but if I can find a window I'll fit you in."

"Good work, colonel. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"Thank you, sir. But I'm only following orders."

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services