JURIST Contibuting Editor Ali Khan of Washburn University School of Law says that the Bush administration's appointment of minority candidates to high-profile positions has made them the complicit and even enthisiastic instruments of political and legal policies as harmful as any espoused by white males.
he Bush administration is making history in recruiting so many minorities to perform high-profile jobs. Colin Powell was the first black man to head the State Department, Condoleezza Rice was the first black woman to be the National Security Advisor, and appears set to be first black women Secretary of State, succeeding Powell. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first Hispanic to be named United States Attorney General.
The introduction of these and other minorities into what has traditionally been a political game of white monopoly in Washington has been in that it's suggested to the world that President Bush values both equality and diversity, and that racial prejudices, actively wired in American power grids, are falling apart. No longer are Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians confined to dirty jobs, such as cleaning private quarters of the white establishment. See, says the Administration, the sons and daughters of the people of color are being actively recruited to lead the world.
But wait a minute. On closer inspection, the willing coalition of black, brown, and other faces of color appears to have been summoned to whitewash foreign invasions, occupations, deportations, detentions, disappearances, and even the commission of war crimes such as torture and extra-judicial executions. Minorities have been cast as big-headed puppets to speak daggers on behalf of a producer/director who, we are told, believes in God, democracy, and liberation.
Take Dr. Condoleezza Rice, known as Condi (which means sweet). Born in the same year the famous Brown case outlawing segregation was decided, raised in the Deep South where lynching of the innocent had been the way to vent hatred, and scarred with memories of her schoolmate killed in the bombing of a black church by white supremacists, Condi has come a long way indeed to champion abusive harshness against the enemy. Of all the presidents men and women, Condi, a pastor's daughter, has been the most combative in her rhetoric of warfare. It was Condi, the brilliant professor on the Bush Cabinet, who wrote a column in the New York Times
to tell the world "Why we know Iraq is lying about weapons of mass destruction," concluding her piece with ominous words "time is running out." Time did run out on Iraq, UN inspectors, and the world calling for restraint, though Condi knew little about the truth of her crusade. One wonders how Condi would employ her militaristic strategies in her new role as America's chief diplomat.
Another Bush minority, Alberto Gonzalez, has built upon equally impressive credentials to promote abusive harshness at home and abroad. Rising from a humble Mexican family in Texas, going to college against all odds of a working class household, and graduating from Harvard Law School, Alberto has endeared himself to the Administration's tough guys. As the White House Counsel, he envisioned a lawless prison for the so-called "enemy combatants" captured in Afghanistan. He denied them the protection of Geneva Conventions, arguing that some of laws provisions are quaint and obsolete. In 2002, Alberto cleared a legal memo allowing torture as an acceptable means to investigate enemy combatants unless torture results in death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions. Discarding restraints of international law, since the tough guys had no use for them, Alberto's memos most certainly contributed to abominable abuses at Abu Gharib (which perchance was under the general command of General Ricardo Sanchez, another Bush minority, this time engaged in supervising the slaughter of Iraqi civilians). Seeing law as an instrument of power, Alberto has constructed a notion of White House legality with no intrinsic morality. It remains to be seen how Alberto, if confirmed by the Senate, would lead the Department of Justice, the task of which is not simply to please the White House but to enforce laws and protect civil liberties.
The story of Viet Dinh, perhaps the most brilliant Bush minority, is no less compelling. Born in Saigon when bombs were falling all over Vietnam, Viet entered America as a refugee. Graduating magna cum laude
from Harvard Law School, clerking with Supreme Court Justice Sandra O Connor, and later teaching at the Georgetown Law Center, Viet was ripe in 2001 to serve the public. As irony would have it, the glory of authoring the Patriot Act fell on this Asian refugee. The Act he authored is an inscrutable text, neither elegant nor candid, but one hammered together to sneak and peek (on the theory that while the cats away the mice will play), gag , detain, and even criminally implicate speech protected under the First Amendment. In his media encounters, Viet defends the Act as a wonderful security gift to Americans (Muslim Americans excluded), and labels the grassroots movement against the Act as hysteria and fury signifying nothing.
Far more pompous than Condi, Alberto, and Viet is Colin Powell, who has served his boss with shrewd skepticism instead of foolish fervor. Colin has gained the reputation of a man of conscience who has resisted becoming totally subservient to the tough guys. That is why, the argument goes, he first lost his power, then his job. That might be so. But it was this Bush minority who deceived the UN Security Council about pictures of Iraqi trucks hauling the weapons of mass destruction. Colin seemingly disapproved the war but nonetheless continued to support it for years. This is no show of conscience. In any event, Colin has aided and abetted a dirty foreign policy for far too long to claim any cloak of purity.
Of course, there exists no proof that the White House has launched a deliberate policy of hiring minorities for illegal and immoral assignments. But who needs proof these days? Mere accusation should suffice. It is certainly intriguing that Bush minorities are collectively chanting the mantras of security at home and liberty abroad to play dirty with law, affirming an unfortunate message that even the people of color, when given the responsibility to run affairs of the state, act no differently than white males, the species so maligned in critical race literature as the paragon of brutality and cold-heartedness.
Thus a new chapter is being written in American history, the theme of which is "dirty diversity." Non-white faces have been hired for big-ticket jobs so that a black woman vouches for an unjust war, a black man defends it, one Hispanic justifies the use of torture while another supervises the slaughter of foreign civilians, and a Vietnamese refugee writes the law to maim American civil liberties. The jobs for these minorities are better than they used to be, but the tasks are no cleaner.
Ali Khan is a professor of law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. His book, A Theory of International Terrorism, will be published in 2005 by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org