Breaking the Durbin Code
What Dick Durbin said, what he really meant, and why the Senate should vote to censure him.
12:00 AM, Jun 20, 2005 • By HUGH HEWITT
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST and Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter should move this week to initiate a censure resolution of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for his remarks on the Senate's floor on June 14, 2005. Not only did Durbin's remarks injure America's position in the world, provide an enormous propaganda victory to the enemy, and slander the United States military, they also represent an escalation in the political rhetoric of the left, which is designed to undermine the public's confidence in the military, the administration, and the war. The censure resolution will oblige every senator to go on the record about how they view the American military as we enter the long phase of the war.
The outrage over Dick Durbin's comparison of interrogation practices at Gitmo to the Nazi, Soviet, and Pol Pot regimes has deeply injured Durbin's reputation and the reputation of the Democratic party that keeps him in the number two leadership position in the United States Senate.
Ye the left has rallied to Durbin's side--their biggest blogger, Markos Moulitsas, proclaimed, for example, "the Wingers are freakin' out about Durbin right now, trying to shut his efforts to speak the truth." The mainstream media haltingly tried to first ignore, and then shift, the story.
Durbin's original remarks on Tuesday, June 14, and his subsequent commentary and statements tell us a great deal about the strategy and mindset of the Democratic party as we approach the fourth anniversary of the war's beginning. I am collecting all those early statements here, in the order they appeared, for the purpose of showing exactly what it was that Durbin set out to do and how, even after a volcano of condemnation erupted around him, he clung to his core message. A debate over a censure resolution will oblige both parties to draw lines about Durbin's remarks, and especially about the character and purpose of the United States armed services.
DURBIN'S FIRST STATEMENT came on the floor of the Senate, as he read from a report of an FBI investigator that had been released pursuant to FOIA. Durbin's entire statement is reproduced below, for although two paragraphs caused the firestorm, his carefully prepared remarks provide context to understanding what Durbin and like-minded leftists intend in the coming months and years:
Mr. President, there has been a lot of discussion in recent days about whether to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This debate misses the point. It is not a question of whether detainees are held at Guantanamo Bay or some other location. The question is how we should treat those who have been detained there. Whether we treat them according to the law or not does not depend on their address. It depends on our policy as a nation.
How should we treat them? This is not a new question. We are not writing on a blank slate. We have entered into treaties over the years, saying this is how we will treat wartime detainees. The United States has ratified these treaties. They are the law of the land as much as any statute we passed. They have served our country well in past wars. We have held ourselves to be a civilized country, willing to play by the rules, even in time of war.
Unfortunately, without even consulting Congress, the Bush administration unilaterally decided to set aside these treaties and create their own rules about the treatment of prisoners.
Frankly, this Congress has failed to hold the administration accountable for its failure to follow the law of the land when it comes to the torture and mistreatment of prisoners and detainees.
I am a member of the Judiciary Committee. For two years, I have asked for hearings on this issue. I am glad Chairman Specter will hold a hearing on wartime detention policies tomorrow. I thank him for taking this step. I wish other members of his party would be willing to hold this administration accountable as well.
It is worth reflecting for a moment about how we have reached this point. Many people who read history remember, as World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, a country in fear after being attacked decided one way to protect America was to gather together Japanese Americans and literally imprison them, put them in internment camps for fear they would be traitors and turn on the United States. We did that. Thousands of lives were changed. Thousands of businesses destroyed. Thousands of people, good American citizens, who happened to be of Japanese ancestry, were treated like common criminals.
It took almost 40 years for us to acknowledge that we were wrong, to admit that these people should never have been imprisoned. It was a shameful period in American history and one that very few, if any, try to defend today.
I believe the torture techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and other places fall into that same category. I am confident, sadly confident, as I stand here, that decades from now people will look back and say: What were they thinking? America, this great, kind leader of a nation, treated people who were detained and imprisoned, interrogated people in the crudest way? I am afraid this is going to be one of the bitter legacies of the invasion of Iraq.
We were attacked on September 11, 2001. We were clearly at war.
We have held prisoners in every armed conflict in which we have engaged. The law was clear, but some of the president's top advisers questioned whether we should follow it or whether we should write new standards.
Alberto Gonzales, then-White House chief counsel, recommended to the president the Geneva Convention should not apply to the war on terrorism.
Colin Powell, who was then Secretary of State, objected strenuously to Alberto Gonzales' conclusions. I give him credit. Colin Powell argued that we could effectively fight the war on terrorism and still follow the law, still comply with the Geneva Conventions. In a memo to Alberto Gonzales, Secretary Powell pointed out the Geneva Conventions would not limit our ability to question the detainees or hold them even indefinitely. He pointed out that under Geneva Conventions, members of al Qaeda and other terrorists would not be considered prisoners of war.
There is a lot of confusion about that so let me repeat it. The Geneva Conventions do not give POW status to terrorists.
In his memo to Gonzales, Secretary Powell went on to say setting aside the Geneva Conventions "will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice . . . and undermine the protections of the law of war for our own troops . . . It will undermine public support among critical allies, making military cooperation more difficult to sustain."
When you look at the negative publicity about Guantanamo, Secretary Colin Powell was prophetic.
Unfortunately, the president rejected Secretary Powell's wise counsel, and instead accepted Alberto Gonzales' recommendation, issuing a memo setting aside the Geneva Conventions and concluding that we needed "new thinking in the law of war."
After the president decided to ignore Geneva Conventions, the administration unilaterally created a new detention policy. They claim the right to seize anyone, including even American citizens, anywhere in the world, including in the United States, and hold them until the end of the war on terrorism, whenever that may be.
For example, they have even argued in court they have the right to indefinitely detain an elderly lady from Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans but actually is a front that finances terrorism.
They claim a person detained in the war on terrorism has no legal rights--no right to a lawyer, no right to see the evidence against them, no right to challenge their detention. In fact, the government has claimed detainees have no right to challenge their detention, even if they claim they were being tortured or executed.
This violates the Geneva Conventions, which protect everyone captured during wartime. The official commentary on the convention states: "Nobody in enemy hands can fall outside the law."
That is clear as it can be. But it was clearly rejected by the Bush administration when Alberto Gonzales as White House counsel recommended otherwise.
U.S. military lawyers called this detention system "a legal black hole." The Red Cross concluded, "U.S. authorities have placed the internees in Guantanamo beyond the law."
Using their new detention policy, the administration has detained thousands of individuals in secret detention centers all around the world, some of them unknown to members of Congress. While it is the most well-known, Guantanamo Bay is only one of them. Most have been captured in Afghanistan and Iraq, but some people who never raised arms against us have been taken prisoner far from the battlefield.
Who are the Guantanamo detainees? Back in 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld described them as "the hardest of the hard core." However, the administration has since released many of them, and it has now become clear that Secretary Rumsfeld's assertion was not completely true.
Military sources, according to the media, indicate that many detainees have no connection to al Qaeda or the Taliban and were sent to Guantanamo over the objections of intelligence personnel who recommended their release. One military officer said: "We're basically condemning these guys to a long-term imprisonment. If they weren't terrorists before, they certainly could be now."
Last year, in two landmark decisions, the Supreme Court rejected the administration's detention policy. The Court held that the detainees' claims that they were detained for over two years without charge and without access to counsel "unquestionably describe custody in violation of the Constitution, or laws or treaties of the United States."
The Court also held that an American citizen held as an enemy combatant must be told the basis for his detention and have a fair opportunity to challenge the Government's claims. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority: "A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."
You would think that would be obvious, wouldn't you? But yet, this administration, in this war, has viewed it much differently.
I had hoped the Supreme Court decision would change the administration policy. Unfortunately, the administration has resisted complying with the Supreme Court's decision.
The administration acknowledges detainees can challenge their detention in court, but it still claims that once they get to court, they have no legal rights. In other words, the administration believes a detainee can get to the courthouse door but cannot come inside.
A federal court has already held the administration has failed to comply with the Supreme Court's rulings. The court concluded that the detainees do have legal rights, and the administration's policies "deprive the detainees of sufficient notice of the factual bases for their detention and deny them a fair opportunity to challenge their incarceration."
The administration also established a new interrogation policy that allows cruel and inhuman interrogation techniques.
Remember what Secretary of State Colin Powell said? It is not a matter of following the law because we said we would, it is a matter of how our troops will be treated in the future. That is something often overlooked here. If we want standards of civilized conduct to be applied to Americans captured in a warlike situation, we have to extend the same manner and type of treatment to those whom we detain, our prisoners.
Secretary Rumsfeld approved numerous abusive interrogation tactics against prisoners in Guantanamo. The Red Cross concluded that the use of those methods was "a form of torture."
The United States, which each year issues a human rights report, holding the world accountable for outrageous conduct, is engaged in the same outrageous conduct when it comes to these prisoners.
Numerous FBI agents who observed interrogations at Guantanamo Bay complained to their supervisors. In one email that has been made public, an FBI agent complained that interrogators were using "torture techniques."
That phrase did not come from a reporter or politician. It came from an FBI agent describing what Americans were doing to these prisoners.
With no input from Congress, the administration set aside our treaty obligations and secretly created new rules for detention and interrogation. They claim the courts have no right to review these rules. But under our Constitution, it is Congress's job to make the laws, and the court's job to judge whether they are constitutional.
This administration wants all the power: legislator, executive, and judge. Our Founding Fathers were warned us about the dangers of the executive branch violating the separation of powers during wartime. James Madison wrote: "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."
Other presidents have overreached during times of war, claiming legislative powers, but the courts have reined them back in. During the Korean war, President Truman, faced with a steel strike, issued an executive order to seize and operate the nation's steel mills. The Supreme Court found that the seizure was an unconstitutional infringement on the Congress's lawmaking power. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, said: "The Constitution is neither silent nor equivocal about who shall make the laws which the President is to execute . . . The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good times and bad."
To win the war on terrorism, we must remain true to the principles upon which our country was founded. This administration's detention and interrogation policies are placing our troops at risk and making it harder to combat terrorism.
Former Congressman Pete Peterson of Florida, a man I call a good friend and a man I served with in the House of Representatives, is a unique individual. He is one of the most cheerful people you would ever want to meet. You would never know, when you meet him, he was an Air Force pilot taken prisoner of war in Vietnam and spent 6 1/2 years in a Vietnamese prison. Here is what he said about this issue in a letter that he sent to me. Pete Peterson wrote:
"From my 6 1/2 years of captivity in Vietnam, I know what life in a foreign prison is like. To a large degree, I credit the Geneva Conventions for my survival. . . . This is one reason the United States has led the world in upholding treaties governing the status and care of enemy prisoners: because these standards also protect us. . . . We need absolute clarity that America will continue to set the gold standard in the treatment of prisoners in wartime."
Abusive detention and interrogation policies make it much more difficult to win the support of people around the world, particularly those in the Muslim world. The war on terrorism is not a popularity contest, but anti-American sentiment breeds sympathy for anti-American terrorist organizations and makes it far easier for them to recruit young terrorists.
Polls show that Muslims have positive attitudes toward the American people and our values. However, overall, favorable ratings toward the United States and its Government are very low. This is driven largely by the negative attitudes toward the policies of this administration.
Muslims respect our values, but we must convince them that our actions reflect these values. That's why the 9/11 Commission recommended: "We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors."
What should we do? Imagine if the president had followed Colin Powell's advice and respected our treaty obligations. How would things have been different?
We still would have the ability to hold detainees and to interrogate them aggressively. Members of al Qaeda would not be prisoners of war. We would be able to do everything we need to do to keep our country safe. The difference is, we would not have damaged our reputation in the international community in the process.
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here--I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor."
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course.
The president could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism. He could declare, as he should, that the United States will not, under any circumstances, subject any detainee to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The administration could give all detainees a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decision maker.
Such a change of course would dramatically improve our image and it would make us safer. I hope this administration will choose that course. If they do not, Congress must step in.
The issue debated in the press today misses the point. The issue is not about closing Guantanamo Bay. It is not a question of the address of these prisoners. It is a question of how we treat these prisoners. To close down Guantanamo and ship these prisoners off to undisclosed locations in other countries, beyond the reach of publicity, beyond the reach of any surveillance, is to give up on the most basic and fundamental commitment to justice and fairness, a commitment we made when we signed the Geneva Convention and said the United States accepts it as the law of the land, a commitment which we have made over and over again when it comes to the issue of torture. To criticize the rest of the world for using torture and to turn a blind eye to what we are doing in this war is wrong, and it is not American.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, suspended habeas corpus, which gives prisoners the right to challenge their detention. The Supreme Court stood up to the president and said prisoners have the right to judicial review even during war.
Let me read what that Court said:
"The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace, and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. No doctrine, involving more pernicious consequences, was ever invented by the wit of man than that any of its provisions could be suspended during any of the great exigencies of government. Such a doctrine leads directly to anarchy or despotism."
Mr. President, those words still ring true today. The Constitution is a law for this administration, equally in war and in peace. If the Constitution could withstand the Civil War, when our nation was literally divided against itself, surely it will withstand the war on terrorism."
Immediate outrage greeted this speech and its obscene comparison of tactics at Gitmo to the methods of history's greatest butchers, but Durbin refused to back down, using spokesman Joe Shoemaker to reject demands for an apology on Wednesday, June 15. Durbin published this statement on his website that day:
No one, including the White House, can deny that the statement I read on the Senate floor was made by an FBI agent describing the torture of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. That torture was reprehensible and totally inconsistent with the values we hold dear in America. This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure.
And I remind the White House the Guantanamo Bay scandal has reached such a level of national embarrassment that Senators from both parties are calling for the closure of that facility.
On Thursday, June 16, Al Jazeera ran a story on Durbin which began:
U.S. senator has refused to apologize for comparing the actions of U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay to those of Nazis, while others have decried or defended the mandate and method used to hold prisoners there.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on Wednesday refused to apologize for comments he made on the Senate floor referring to Nazis, Soviet gulags, and a "mad regime" like Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
This Al Jazeera story reinforced the obvious and undeniable consequence of Durbin's recklessness: An enormous propaganda gift had been given by Durbin to jihadists everywhere, not to mention anti-Americans of every stripe. The uproar which had not abated since Tuesday continued to swell, with more and more active-duty military and their family expressing their contempt for the Democratic whip.
Durbin was apparently unaware of the depth of his problem early on Thursday, because he began the day as a participant in the debate on the energy bill, and delivered another clue to his mindset:
People drive these Hummers. Have you seen them? I personally think if you want to drive a Hummer, you ought to join the Army. But people want to buy them, want to go on the road, and get five or six miles a gallon. And Detroit keeps churning these big, heavy cars. Well, from my point of view, we ought to step back and say as a nation, "Isn't it worth something for us to have more fuel-efficient vehicles so we don't get drawn into foreign conflicts over oil? Is it more important to me to drive a sensible car, and to spare someone's son or daughter from serving in the military, in the Middle East in a war?"
But Durbin wasn't done with his work.
He returned to the Senate floor on Thursday night, and tried to explain his Tuesday remarks without apologizing for them, only to be met by Republican Senators Warner, Kyl, and Sessions who sternly rebuked him. Here's the key excerpt from Durbin's second floor statement on Gitmo:
I have heard my colleagues and others in the press suggest that I have said our soldiers could be compared to Nazis. I'd say to the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, I do not even know if the interrogator involved here was an American soldier. I didn't say that at any point. To suggest that I am criticizing American servicemen, I am not. I don't know who is responsible for this. But the FBI agent made this report, and to suggest that I was attributing all the sins and all the horrors and barbarism of Nazi Germany or Soviet Republic or Pol Pot to Americans is totally unfair. I was attributing this form of interrogation to repressive regimes, such as those that I noted. And I honestly believe the Senator from Virginia, who I respect very, very much, would have to say that, if indeed this occurred, it does not represent American values. It doesn't represent what our country stands for. It is not the sort of conduct we would ever condone. I would hope that the senator from Virginia would agree with that. That was the point I was making. Now sadly, we have a situation here, where some in the right wing media have said that I have been insulting men and women in uniform. Nothing could be further from truth. I respect our men and women in uniform. I have spent many hours, as I am sure the senator from Virginia has, at funerals of the servicemen who have been returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, writing notes to their families and calling them personally. It breaks my heart every day to pick up the newspaper and hear of another death. Now the total this morning, 1,710. To suggest that this is somehow an insult to the men and women serving in the uniform, nothing could be further from the truth. But it is no credit to them or our nation for this sort of conduct to occur. [emphasis added]
In addition to the weasel rhetoric at the beginning, Durbin also made another effort to argue that Colin Powell agreed with him by referencing Powell's public stance against torture--a threadbare effort to sidle up to an American icon and pretend that the icon agrees with you. Still, Durbin refused to confront the central issue: What tactics equal "torture," and whether the Gitmo interrogations have anything of the Nazis, the Stalinists, and the Khmer Rouge about them.
Arizona Republican Jon Kyl would not allow Durbin to slip away. Kyl blasted Durbin for the "consequences when enemies of the United States seize on even the flimsiest of things to take to the streets and riot . . . "
"Words have consequences." Kyl added. "It is irresponsible and it should not be engaged in, and it should not be countenanced."
ON FRIDAY, JUNE 17, as the switchboards in Washington and Illinois offices melted down, Durbin sought the friendly confines of Chicago talk radio, speaking with Spike O'Dell and his co-host on WGN, 720 AM. Here's a partial transcript, omitting mostly the repeat of the FBI text and the argument that Powell was with him (If Powell agrees with Durbin, there is no evidence yet produced to support the assertion):
Q: No regrets on the comments you made?
Durbin: No, I don't, and I'll tell you why. I went to the floor and read a memo from the FBI. This isn't something I made up. It was a memo that was unclassified, was disclosed, and I'm going to take, if I can ask you to bear with me, I'm going to read the highlights of it because it really sets the stage for my comments. . . . [reads investigator memo] It goes on and on and on. I read this into the record because there has been a lot of controversy about what is happening in Guantanamo Bay where we have held 500 to 700 people for some times up to two and a half years with no charges. The Supreme Court has ruled that this administration's new interrogation policy under Secretary Rumsfeld violates basic rights and I said if I just read this to you and you didn't know where it came from, where would you think this could happen? In the Nazi regime, in the Soviet regime? Sadly it happened under Americans. Now the point I was trying to make is, we have departed from standards of conduct which presidents of both parties have played by for over 50 years, and we shouldn't be doing this . . . .
Q: So what you just read there was verbatim and when you read it into the record, it was exactly what was there and there was nothing else added to it?
Durbin: Exactly. And I will tell you what happened afterwards. There was a tremendous reaction, first from the White House, negative reaction, calling my statements reprehensible, demanding some apology to our troops. If you'll listen to this memo, they never say that there was an American soldier involved except an MP guarding a detainee. They talk about interrogators. We don't know if they are from intelligence agencies, private contractors, like Abu Ghraib, we have no idea what they are. But I wasn't disparaging our troops. Our troops are following orders. I'm saying the orders coming down from the top are just plain wrong . . . .
Q: I guess one of the reasons people are having such a hard time with this one, is when comparisons are made and you use names like Nazis and Soviet gulags, when you are talking Nazis there were what, 9 million people killed in the camps there. The gulags had about 3 million and so forth. And I know Gitmo is not the Holiday Inn down there, but I don't think anyone has died down there, have they?
Durbin: No, that's true. In all fairness, they did not. But I don't believe we were dealing with deaths at Abu Ghraib either. We were dealing with a situation where when people saw the digital camera photographs, they said "My God! Americans should not be involved in that kind of conduct." Now I will not demean or diminish the terrible atrocities that were committed by the Soviets and the Nazis. The points I was, the point I was trying to make there was, if I just read this to you and say "What kind of country, what kind of government would do that," and you'd think of some of the most repressive regimes in history. Sadly this FBI report says its being done by our government. I don't know who in our government. But it should stop . . . .
Q: Weren't you trying to ignite a fire politically speaking with these comments?
Durbin: The comments I made were a day before a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Guantanamo Bay. The hearing was called by Republican Senator Arlen Specter. And to his credit, and I said it publicly when I went to the meeting, he had the courage to do it, because we just don't have investigative hearings on Capitol Hill of this Administration and this war. We just don't do it. And sadly a lot of things have gone unanswered. My point in taking this to the floor and reading into the record this FBI document, this report from this FBI agent, was to make it clear that the criticisms of Guantanamo Bay go to some very fundamental American values. And that we need to take care not to do things that are going to do damage to our reputation or in any way endanger our troops.
Q: Interrogators are the ones who are fault here . . . Wouldn't the interrogation techniques still be suspect, regardless of where these prisoners are housed?
Durbin: They don't have to be. In terms of closing Guantanamo Bay, yes I have joined in that chorus, but I have quickly added, just changing the address of these detainees isn't going to change the situation. We have to get back and ask some basic questions. Why did this president decide to abandon the Geneva conventions, the first president since we signed on to them after World War II, why did he decide that this war on terror require the kind of interrogation techniques that we have criticized in other nations? Why have we gone this far? . . .
Q: How would you get information from them . . . They are pumping Christine Aguilera music in there, and all that stuff, what would you do different?
Durbin: I think you would agree, Spike, that if that there were visual images, digital photos, of what I just described to you in this FBI memo, it would be comparable to many of the things we saw in Abu Ghraib, and the American people said that just isn't who we are. That isn't what we stand for. There are methods of interrogation. There's reward and punishment. But you don't have to reach the point where you have someone chained to the floor for over 24 hours in their own urine and feces, tearing their hair out as they go into madness, I mean, that does not appear to me to be an effective way to interrogate anyone and come up with reliable information.
Q: Are you surprised at all this backlash?
Durbin: Yes, I am. Well, I shouldn't be. I have seen it happen before. What happens is this, for your listeners, so they understand now. The people on the other side, the president's supporters, have a pretty substantial network behind them. The first thing they do when they get angry and decide to focus on something, my statement obviously was their focus, they start their blogs, which I don't pay a lot of attention to but some people do. The next thing you know is it moves into this talk radio. I became a poster child for Rush Limbaugh. He put my number on his radio show. People called from all around the country. The Washington Times, a very conservative, Republican newspaper, puts a front page story about me on there. The White House lashes out to me, and pretty soon the mainstream media , it just follows. It has happened time and time again. They have a good way of starting the news when they want to protect the president, but the reality is, as the poll numbers show this morning, despite all this effort, the American people are very worried about what's happening in Iraq. We have lost 1,700, I want to say 1,710, that was yesterday, I think we have now lost 1,713 soldiers. I have attended the funerals. I have sent notes to the families. This is a sad situation with no end in site, and the president's approval for handling this war is at an all time low.
Q: Would you consider taking up the Pentagon on their offer to go down there and tour the whole thing?
Durbin: Yes, you know, I have tried several times, and they cancelled it for a variety of reasons, but I would certainly do it again. The problem with it Spike, just to be honest with you, is that when they bring in VIPs, you can just guarantee that you are going to see the very best of the best. You aren't going to see any troubling situations. And people are very guarded in their comments. Not that I wouldn't want to see it, and not that I disagree with your premise that no one has died there. We are providing basic care for people who are there. But obviously there have been some excesses. This FBI memo points to it. It is the kind of thing that happened at Abu Ghraib. It is the kind of thing that shouldn't happen any more in the future.
Durbin's continued insistence on "no regrets," and his continued insistence of the depravity of conduct and conditions at Gitmo reinforced his critics' anger, and the evidence of that widespread furor broke out all across the web. A retired paratrooper, Blackfive provided all the contact info for all of Durbin's offices and the comments section of his blog turned up a signed letter from an active-duty soldier which captured the deep ire exploding among the military, their families, and supporters. It is addressed to all United States senators:
I am currently deployed to Kosovo as a member of Task Force Falcon, Multi-National Brigade-East, NATO KFOR. At home I am a teacher in the Kerman Unified School District, providing quality instruction in U.S. History and English/Language Arts to wonderful eighth graders whom I love dearly. I have served in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, and California Army National Guard for 24 years.
I am currently on orders for 545 days on this contingency operation (Operation Enduring Freedom/Joint Guardian), which means that I will miss everything that my family does for the next nine months (at least), possibly longer if I am redeployed to another contingency operation, or extended here.
I share the preceding information as a preamble to the subject of this email, so there will be no mistake as to my position, or credibility.
The recent comments of Senator Durbin in reference to the conditions for inmates at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are as detestable as anything I have ever heard or read concerning members of the of the United States military. By now these comments have been quoted or aired enough that I need not repeat them here.
The senator's remarks, while apparently intended to apply to only a small number of us, actually hit ALL of us squarely in the heart. To compare any member of the U.S. armed forces with the murderous thugs who ran Hitler's camp system, the Soviet Gulag, or who gleefully slaughtered entire populations in Cambodia, is an affront to all men and women of our military.
Does Senator Durbin really mean to imply that WE are thugs and murderers? Does he really mean to imply that WE treat our prisoners in the same manner, as say, the totenkopfverbande treated prisoners at Sobibor, Belzec, Treblinka, or Auschwitz? Does he really mean that?
If the good senator really does intend to convey this message, then I suggest that he read Eugen Kogon's excellent and heartbreaking study of the Nazi camp system, titled "The Theory and Practice of Hell." I think he should read it, and then decide whether or not his comparisons are entirely accurate. I would also like to suggest that Senator Durbin read Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago," or "Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields" by Kim DePaul and the late Dith Pran.
We men and women who serve in the armed forces are NOT the jackbooted tyrants that some people seem hell-bent to depict us as. We are many things, but we are not evil. Implications to the opposite effect serve only to undermine and demoralize us as we try with all our hearts to carry out our missions to make the world a better place. If Senator Durbin or any other lawmaker would like to see evidence of, or hear testimony about what we really do, then I suggest a trip to Kosovo. Ask the people here what they think of America and our soldiers. You might be surprised.
In conclusion I would like to remind you that many of the men and women currently running the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay come from the California Army National Guard. They are upstanding and honorable citizens of the state of California, and the United States of America. They are members of the greatest force for peace, or war, that the world has ever seen. I personally know many of them, and they are absolutely not as Senator Durbin portrays them. Senators, I beg of you, stand up for them. Do not allow these reprehensible statements by one of your colleagues to go by the board without censure. He must be called to task on this.
SSG Stephen Pointer
"War is evil, but it is often the lesser evil."
On Friday night, Durbin posted yet another statement on his website:
More than 1,700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and our country's standing in the world community has been badly damaged by the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this administration which add to the risk our soldiers face.
I will continue to speak out when I disagree with this administration.
I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support.
Even a casual reading of the Durbin record shows a number of things. Durbin is speaking in code, communicating with the hard-left base of his party and their European friends and well-wishers. Here's what he is saying, stripped down to its essentials.
First, Durbin's reference to the Nazis, the Soviet gulag, and Pol Pot's killers was an intentional part of a detailed argument, an argument that equates the killer-prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay with combatants in war, and which asserts that America is acting wrongly and unlawfully vis-à-vis these prisoners. Not only does this undermine the justice of America's cause in the war on terror, it elevates unlawful combatants to the status of legitimate warriors.
Next, Durbin's detailed argument asserts that the conditions and practices at Gitmo amount to "torture," and are part of a pattern that began at Abu Ghraib and continues throughout the world, practices which class the United States among the "most repressive regimes in history." In his original speech, Durbin asserted:
Using their new detention policy, the administration has detained thousands of individuals in secret detention centers all around the world, some of them unknown to Members of Congress. While it is the most well-known, Guantanamo Bay is only one of them. Most have been captured in Afghanistan and Iraq, but some people who never raised arms against us have been taken prisoner far from the battlefield.
Durbin's argument, coming in this context, implies that the American military has built a global network of Abu Ghraibs/Gitmos, wherein systematic torture of prisoners is taking place, all of it under the control of the United States military. On Tuesday, Durbin referred to the "torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and elsewhere" and by Friday, Durbin was making the argument that Abu Ghraib equals Gitmo openly: "This FBI memo points to it. It is the kind of thing that happened at Abu Ghraib."
Of course Durbin will not segregate the criminal conduct by a handful of out-of-control G.I.'s not acting under orders--and already prosecuted and punished--from the authorized conduct at Gitmo and elsewhere. To do so would be to protect the military's reputation, but it would damage Durbin's agenda of demonizing the war effort. To advance that agenda, Durbin takes a single report from an FBI investigator, inflates its allegations to Abu Ghraib-level criminal conduct, and attributes it to every detention facility used in the war on terror. This is not the simple slander of one interrogator, or one facility.
Durbin's argument also systematically makes the case that the threat from Islamists is overstated, and the reaction to the overstated threat is wildly disproportionate to the real threat. In his first floor statement, Durbin never articulates the threats to Americans from terrorists, but does pause to exclaim in horror that the United States officials "have even argued in court they have the right to indefinitely detain an elderly lady from Switzerland who writes checks to what she thinks is a charity that helps orphans but actually is a front that finances terrorism." Without any explanation of the case or reference to it, Durbin passes on from this portrait of the tyrannical America imprisoning an elderly benefactor of children to the argument that "[a]busive detention and interrogation policies make it much more difficult to win the support of people around the world, particularly those in the Muslim world," thus telegraphing his opinion of American military practices around the world.
Durbin never articulates a defense of any interrogation tactics, never pauses over the threat, never recalls the brutality of the jihadists from September 11, to Bali, to Madrid. He never names a single victim of their violence, but instead worries over their conditions, telling his Chicago interviewer that "we have held 500 to 700 people for sometimes up to two and a half years with no charges."
There are "no regrets" on Durbin's part because he believes America is deeply committed to criminal conduct in an out-of-control war being waged against individuals who would better be negotiated with.
DURBIN'S REMARKS should not be allowed to be edited away with an apology. The American electorate does not believe the conditions at Guantanamo are "torture." They do not agree that the criminal conduct of Abu Ghraib is illustrative of the American military. They do not worry that we are being overly inclusive about the population at Gitmo. They do not believe that any part of what America been about since September 11 is in any way connected with the Nazis, the Stalinists, or Pol Pot.
They are disgusted over this slander of the military, and they deserve a vote on whether Senator Durbin's argument deserves anything except complete and quick condemnation by responsible members of both parties intent on supporting the war, the military, and the country's defense.
Dick Durbin hasn't been misunderstood, as his Friday web statement claims. He isn't the victim of a right-wing media, as his Friday interview argues. Dick Durbin has been perfectly understood. All of his words have been read and listened to, in their original context and in his original delivery.
Durbin stands with the Michael Moore left, the Howard Dean attack-America-first caucus, and the international chorus that assigns the responsibility for the jihadists to American overreach in the world.
The election of 2004 might have been the occasion when the Democratic leadership took account of where American public opinion stands on this war. That leadership rejected the results of November because those results rejected them. In response they have upped the rhetoric, intent on a replay of the anti-war movement and rhetoric of the late '60s and early '70s, hopeful of converting Bush to Nixon, and of driving American power back to its own shores. The tactic of demonizing the American military worked then, so it is being replayed now. If this rhetoric is not checked, it is only a matter of time until we have a new John Kerry discussing the "Genghis Khan" tactics of the American military operating in the Middle East.
Durbin's slander was simply a rhetorical bridge too far, but for both the man and his party there are no regrets and no apology. Not one senior Democrat has condemned Durbin's statement. Not one Democratic senator has asked for a caucus meeting.
The difference between 2005 and the Vietnam era, however, lies in the public's appreciation of its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, founded in no small part on the public's recognition that the consequences of a collapse of American will in the new millennium will not be millions dead in Europe or Asia, but more Americans dead in America.
Censure Durbin because he deserves it, and the country's defense demands it.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.