AUSTIN -- Why do they hate us? Well, scope out the deal at Guantanamo, and see what you think.

We go along for months having a war -- the war in Afghanistan, the war on terrorism, the war to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive, troops on the ground, bombs in the air ... in other words, war. Those of us who suggested that maybe war was not the right rhetoric for this situation were booed down for being insufficiently bloodthirsty, and the caissons went rolling along.

Now we've won the war It's not clear what we've won, but we've definitely won, which is better than losing. So we take the prisoners we've captured off to our base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and suddenly announce that they are not prisoners of war after all, because this isn't really a war we've been fighting. Therefore the prisoners are "illegal combatants," and we don't have to treat them in accord with the Geneva Convention on POWs.

This is why a lot of people hate us. For the sheer bloody arrogance of having it both ways all the time. For thinking that we are above the rules, that we can laugh at treaties, that we can do whatever we want -- we don't have to keep our word or behave like other civilized nations, and we can just tell people to bugger off when they raise questions.

Now, among thoughtful world citizens, this is not why they hate us, but why they consider us stupid. Did you ever see a deal that makes us look worse? We claim we don't have to allow the International Red Cross in to inspect the conditions at Guantanamo, but you know perfectly well if Americans were being held as POWs (or even semi-POWs) anywhere in the world we would raise holy hell if the Red Cross weren't allowed to see them.

Nobody has any idea if, when or how these prisoners are going to be tried. And the insanely ironic part is this is all happening in Cuba, where Fidel Castro has been listening to lectures from us on human rights and the correct treatment of prisoners for 45 years. Bet Fee-Dell is a laughin' like a sewer over this.

What's even dumber is that we already have allowed the Red Cross to inspect the quarters at Gitmo, so we're losing a disastrous battle on the public relations front for no reason at all. When Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was questioned about the photographs of the prisoners -- bound and gagged hand and foot, blindfolded, ears covered, forced to kneel -- he reacted as though it were presumptuous to even raise questions about it.

Retired Gen. Bernard Trainor said, "Well, they like to spend a lot of time on their knees anyway." That'll sound good on Arab TV. Just stop a minute and think what your reaction would be if that that been said of American Christian prisoners being forced to kneel in, say, China. In fact, these prisoners are anomalous and do not meet the convention's standards for prisoners of war -- but we're the ones who keep claiming this is a war.

And there, it seems to me, is the nub of the problem -- simple fairness, or the appearance of simple fairness. To at least be seen to respect other people's opinions is so much to our advantage and costs us so little, we're nuts not to do it. The questions about the photographs were raised by the European allies, who, let it not be forgotten, swung to our support after Sept. 11 even though they were most unhappy with President Bush.

The Bushies, we often found in Texas, have a tendency to think their own stuff don't stink. Sorry to see they took that to Washington with them. Look at the reaction to the ruling by the World Trade Organization Monday saying the United States has to change its tax code or the European Union can load up to $4 billion on U.S. exports as punishment.

Turns out the WTO doesn't think much of the 1971 law allowing corporations to exempt as much as 30 percent of their income from taxation by setting up offshore companies. It'd be wonderfully ironic for all the WTO protesters if we actually got a fairer tax system through the WTO. But, of course, the bidness interests -- Kodak, Boeing, Microsoft, etc. -- are unhappy. Other WTO decisions have gone against laws in other nations, and the United States has pretty much said, "Lump it." It'll be interesting to see how we respond to this decision.

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