Memo to Tony Snow: The next time you're inclined to say that Colin Powell is "confused" about issues related to the "war on terror," perhaps you should retract the thought before it comes tumbling out of your mouth.
The White House is apparently offering a new proposal on military tribunals and detainees now, its plan to rewrite the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 dead on arrival in the face of opposition from Senate Democrats and at least five Senate Republicans -- all of whom were provided political cover when Powell wrote a letter saying the president's previous proposal put U.S. troops at risk. Snow last week attributed Powell's opposition to confusion on the part of the president's former secretary of state. He tried to retract the charge, but the president piled on anyway, dismissing Powell's missive by saying that he'd seen "all kinds of letters" about his plan and suggesting that Powell had somehow equated the United States with terrorists.
Powell's response? In an interview with the Washington Post, Powell says that the way in which the Bush administration has waged its war on terror is causing the world to question America's bona fides. "If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," Powell tells the Post, "whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."
Case in point No. 1: A government commission in Canada Monday released a report in which it found "no evidence" that Maher Amar -- subjected to rendition by the United States and then torture by Syrian officials -- had committed any crime or posed any threat to Canadian security.
Case in point No. 2: Bush's plan itself. As experts on both sides of the issue tell the New York Times, the president's plan to "clarify" the Geneva Conventions' prohibition against "humiliating and degrading treatment" was driven by a desire for latitude, not specificity. Among the techniques on the table, experts say: "sleep deprivation, playing ear-splittingly loud music and waterboarding, which induces a feeling of drowning."
For Powell, it's a goose-and-gander issue. "Suppose North Korea or somebody else wants to redefine or 'clarify'" the Geneva Convention protections that U.S. soldiers now enjoy. "To say that we want to modify, clarify or redefine Common Article 3, which has not been modified for the 57 years of its history, I think adds to the doubt" about whether the U.S. really has the high moral ground in the war on terror, he says.