Breaking with other Cabinet officials this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged President Bush to ensure that, in the event of a surprise attack by North Korea, the Office of Homeland Security have full resources and authority to respond to any anti-Korean hate crimes. Mr. Powell was expressing the concerns of our allies and human-rights advocates.
Actually, his real beef concerns the technical procedure by which the United States concludes that the terrorists held at Guantanamo are not "prisoners of war." (Also, Korean-Americans are the greatest Americans, narrowly edging out Cuban-Americans who are the second greatest. They would not be complaining about ethnic profiling and military tribunals.)
Powell says we should apply the Geneva Convention to the Guantanamo detainees. As he admits, under the convention, the detainees are still not prisoners of war, inasmuch as they masquerade as civilians, stage sneak attacks, slaughter innocent civilians, pretend they are surrendering and then come out shooting, take hostages, hide arms in mosques, and generally do not abide by the laws or customs of war.
Other administration officials have concluded that the Geneva Convention doesn't apply in the first place since the detainees masquerade as civilians, stage sneak attacks, slaughter innocent civilians, pretend they are surrendering and then come out shooting, take hostages, hide arms in mosques, and generally do not abide by the laws or customs of war.
The subtle distinction is this: If I showed up at the Super Bowl this Sunday demanding to play for the Patriots, I would be turned away (sadly) on the grounds that I am not a member of the Patriots. Not only would my name not appear on the team roster, but people would notice that I am a scrawny 99-pound weakling.
Powell's argument is that we should appease our completely useless "allies" by playing a make-believe game that I am a Patriot. Then the Patriots would make a lengthy, painstaking finding of fact that I am scrawny 99-pound weakling and, for that reason alone, conclude that I cannot play in the Super Bowl.
So the main problem with Powell's position is that it lacks what we used to call "a point."
To be sure, some decades ago, a different government of Afghanistan played for the Patriots – that is, was a signatory to the Geneva Convention. But we are not at war with Afghanistan. To the contrary! We are the current Afghanistan government's biggest best buddy in the whole world, though they seem to think the name of our country is "the Pentagon."
We are at war with al-Qaida. The 158 Guantanamo detainees come from at least 25 different countries. To pretend that the Taliban is bound by a convention signed by an earlier Afghan government because the al-Qaida fighters happened to be captured in Afghanistan would be like trying to collect a bill from a corporation that bought your debtor's house, razed it, and happened to occupy the same property 20 years later.
The most popular argument for the Powell view is that we have to be nice to the detainees, because otherwise people won't be nice to captured American soldiers. Which people are we trying to impress by this largesse exactly? Any Americans captured by al-Qaida will be tortured, disemboweled and beheaded.
Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of the United States actually going to war against any country that would honor the Geneva Convention. Despite an enormous groundswell of support for an attack on France, we probably won't. The only people we go to war with are utter savages.
In World War II, the Japanese tortured and killed American prisoners of war. In the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese tortured American prisoners of war. In the Gulf War, Iraq tortured U.S. prisoners of war – including a female officer who was sexually assaulted by her captors.
So this Geneva Convention thing isn't really working out for us.
The argument boils down to the claim that we have to treat the detainees the way humanrightsniks say we should in order to secure the approval of humanrightsniks. Even the late Justice William J. Brennan had more imaginative arguments than that. In any event, the humanrightsniks already denounce us as racists who engage in barbaric practices like capital punishment.
Thus far in the war on terrorism, human-rights organizations, our "allies," criminal-defense lawyers and other members of the Democratic coalition have complained about the detention of terrorism suspects, complained about military tribunals for terrorists, complained about a trial for John Walker and complained about (nonexistent) ethnic profiling at airports. No one in America cared. It must be galling to the U.N. human rights commissioner.
But then, for some reason, the human-rights organizations imagined that we would be impressed by their whining about the Guantanamo detainees. The country is just shrugging that off, too. Afraid of seeming impotent and irrelevant, even Tony Blair immediately backed down.
Whether the terrorists in Guantanamo are getting enough Froot Loops is not where the country is right now. Powell has us too busy worrying about the coming scourge of hate crimes.