Submitted by Rick Perlstein on August 7, 2007 - 3:50pm.
I haven't seen this getting much attention. It should. On July 19, [ed.: July 19, 2002, I neglected to note originally] a man named Peter Kirsanow said that if Arabs staged another terrorist attack on American soil, the doors might swing open to new American concentration camps.
And who is Peter Kirsanow? A shrieking talk radio maniac? One of those right-wing bloggers who can't host comments on his site because the violent fantasies therein attract too much attention from the FBI?
No, he is a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. A Bush appointee.
"I think we will have a return to Korematsu," was the exact quote. Korematsu v. United States was the 1944 Supreme Court decision that signed off on internment camps for Japanese. For good measure, he said it at a hearing in Detroit, the most Arab-heavy city in the U.S.
He has since walked back his comments. You know the old dodge: out of context. "Under no circumstances did I ever say, nor do I believe in, detention camps or that the government should consider such detention camps,” Kirsanow told the AP three days later. “I am adamantly opposed to the concept. I was trying to emphasize that an effective war on terrorism and preserving civil liberties are not mutually exclusive.”
Well, what was the context? Reports on the meeting are sparse. But one source, citing a Detroit Free Press article no longer available online, said that at the hearing Arab-American leaders were bearing witness to the treatment of their constituents since 9/11 ("It's becoming really ugly," one leader testified), and that "Kirsanow argued that Arab and Muslim Americans should accept the country's new antiterrorism laws and complain less about infringements to their civil rights." Kirsanow is also quoted saying that if there's an attack, "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights... The public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives." A lawyer named Roland Hwang apparently piped up and said that never again should Americans be detained for reasons of mere ethnicity. Then came the quote about Korematsu.
So apparently the context was a Bush administration "civil rights" official telling Arabs that if they are worried about civil liberties, well, then, they should just make Arabs stop being terrorists. Lovely. These Bushies are richer ironists than Henry James.
[As I've clarified above, this was from 2002. Kirsanow, an African American, remains on the Civil Rights Commmission; and, after a 2006 recess appointment, he was further rewarded with a berth on the National Labor Relations Board, where I'm certain he continues to serve his nation with distinguished impartiality.]