Saturday, June 18, 2005

Dick Durbin takes Gitmo head on

Dick Durbin takes Gitmo head on

The debate over the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo -- and the
rhetoric -- continues to escalate.

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Richard J.
Durbin of Illinois ripped into the Bush administration, citing an FBI
report describing prisoners chained to the floor in the fetal position
without food or water and sometimes kept in extreme temperatures. "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,"
Durbin said, "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."

Needless to say, those comparisons set off a firestorm of criticism on
the political right, and from the White House. Bush spokesman Scott
McClellan said it was ''beyond belief'' that Durbin would compare the
treatment of so-called enemy combatants at Guantánamo to the killing of
millions of innocent people by oppressive governments. ''I think the
senator's remarks are reprehensible," he said. "It's a real disservice
to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold
our values and our laws."

The senior Democrat stood by his comments, saying Thursday that it was
"just plain wrong" to say he was diminishing past horrors. He said he
was comparing interrogation techniques that the FBI reported on at
Guantánamo with those in foreign detainee camps.

But he also seemed to back off a bit from his statements on the Senate
floor. According to Friday's Washington Post, Durbin said his words had
been misinterpreted as an attack on the U.S. military, adding that he
didn't even know who was in charge of the particular interrogation
cited in the FBI agent's account. "Sadly, we have a situation here
where some in the right-wing media say I've been insulting men and
women in uniform," he said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."

Durbin also acknowledged that the regimes to which he'd referred had
committed horrors far beyond the techniques he was condemning at
Guantánamo. But he said it was "no exaggeration" to suggest that the
techniques cited in the FBI report were not acceptable in a democracy.
"This is the kind of thing you expect from repressive regimes but not
from the United States," he said.

Durbin's pointed comments and the crosscurrents
war_room/2005/06/13/gitmo/index.html> of the debate over the last
couple weeks seem evidence enough that things have gone terribly wrong
with U.S. practices against prisoners -- and not just at Guantánamo.
(Does anyone recall Abu Ghraib?) There's probably plenty more we don't
know about when it comes to the U.S. government using explicitly
anti-democratic tactics in the war against terrorism, information
buried in the name of protecting national security -- though there's
plenty that we already do know about. Durbin's comments may have been
pushing the envelope, but with good reason: As time drags on and the
horrifying allegations of abuse pile up, no less than the core
principles of American democracy may be at stake.

Of course, the White House doesn't see it that way. Last weekend, Vice
President Dick Cheney made a point of saying that Guantánamo or no,
international opinion of the U.S. is in perfectly fine shape, while
Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter, a close ally of the Pentagon,
talked up the prison facility's fine dining

Cheney may have more than one reason to whitewash what's happening at
Gitmo. As it happens, his former company, Halliburton
type=topNews&storyID=8817044>, has just been tapped by the Pentagon to
build a new $30 million detention facility and security fence at the
U.S. military base in Cuba.