It’s not the killing Americans part that’s important

There’s a pretty good story in the New York Times today about Luis Posada Carriles. Posada helped plan the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 in 1976, killing all 73 people aboard. Posada snuck into the U.S. last year, and the Bush administration is looking for some nice country for him to go to while trying very hard to make sure he’s never prosecuted for, you know, terrorism. Lots of people are mad about this:

Roseanne Nenninger Persaud, whose 19-year-old brother, Raymond, was one of the passengers who perished, recently wrote a letter to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales urging him to brand Mr. Posada a terrorist.

“It feels like a double standard,” Ms. Nenninger, who was born in Guyana but has since become an American citizen, said in a telephone interview from New York. “He should be treated like bin Laden. If this were a plane full of Americans, it would have been a different story.”

But that’s where Ms. Nenniger is completely wrong. If he did it right, Posada probably could have killed 73 Americans with about the same reaction.

It’s not that the U.S. government wants us dead. You can’t even say, exactly, that they’re indifferent. Rather, it’s that if you made a list of their top 100 priorities, whether we live or die would be about #96.

So if Posada had blown up a plane with 73 Americans aboard, and it played into one of the U.S. government’s higher priorities, then there would be such loud weeping and wailing the heavens would shake. The president would lay a wreath at the grave of each and every one, the New York Times would publish op-eds from relatives demanding JUSTICE. Etc.

By contrast, if Posada had blown up a plane with 73 Americans aboard, but it couldn’t be used to advance one of the U.S. government’s higher priorities—and particularly if it actually conflicted with one of the government’s higher priorities—it wouldn’t be a problem. There would be no wreath-laying, no NY Times op-eds. In fact, by now it would be just as forgotten by most Americans as the actual Cubana Flight 455.

Think I’m kidding? Well, foreigners are already welcome to run over Americans with U.S.-made bulldozers.

They’re also welcome to torture and murder Harvard graduates.

And it’s no problem if they want to kill Americans on the streets of Washington, D.C.

The only thing that matters is whether you kill Americans in a way that provides a pretext for other things the government wants to do. If so, then it’s THE GREATEST CRIME EVER COMMITTED. But otherwise, from the U.S. government’s perspective, killing Americans is A-OK.