WASHINGTON -- President Bush prepared to grant the traditional pardon to a gift turkey at the White House yesterday, but abruptly condemned the bird to death, accusing it of terrorism.
His decision set in motion a desperate last minute appeal and the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on a motion to vacate the sentence.
The incident began shortly after 11 a.m. in the Rose Garden, when a delegation from the National Turkey Association arrived with "Joseph K," a 22 pound white tom. Bush bent down to pat the bird on the top of the head, then stopped abruptly, and emitted a high pitched squeal. The bird had lunged and pecked him between the legs.
Three Secret Service agents dove in, wrestled "K" to a standstill, handcuffed his feet, and held him down on a table, as the President removed two steel balls from his pocket and began rolling them in his right hand.
Staring deeply into the bird's left eye, Bush said, "You're either for me or against me, Mr. 'K.' It's that simple. Osama sent you, didn't he? So, hell, I'm not gonna pardon you, 'K,' I'm gonna eat you on Thanksgiving. 'Kay?" Turning, Bush strode into the White House. The agents followed, carrying the bird between them.
At a press briefing some three hours later, spokesman Tony Snow fielded questions about the decision.
"The President's positions on capital punishment and interrogation are well known. The dead cannot commit crimes . . .
"Yes, we tested the beak and no traces of poison were found . . .
"No, holding a turkey's head under water is not torture. We do not torture. . ."
"The steel balls are a stress reducer, prescribed by his doctor . . .
"To my knowledge, no strawberries are missing from the White House larder . . ."
"The President did meet with Mr. 'K' and his attorney, Gerry Spence about an hour ago, but declined to grant clemency. 'K' failed to communicate suitable remorse. The President could not make sense of his accent, which I understand is Czech. Each time Mr. 'K' made a statement, the President replied, 'Pardon me?,' and Mr. Spence said, 'No, him,' pointing to Mr. 'K.'"
Spence filed a direct appeal to the Supreme Court on grounds that Bush had exceeded his Constitutional authority in holding and sentencing an alleged terrorist with no recourse to the federal court system. Chief Justice Roberts issued a stay of execution, pending oral arguments.