Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Durbin apologizes

Bonfire of the Liberties
Fafblog says The Torturers Accept Your Apology. Senator Durbin...:
The boys in the 101st Thumbscrew Division would accept your heartfelt concession personally, but they're busy serving the highest ideals of their country, beating a young Afghan man tied to the floor in his own feces. He is believed to be either a steadfast and vicious enemy of freedom intent on the murder of thousands of American citizens, or another cab driver. It's so hard to keep track these days.
I like Dick Durbin. When I lived in Chicago, I was happy to have him represent me. I feel like my birth state is well represented. But he shouldn't have apologized.

Let's roll the tape and remember what he actually said:

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.

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. …

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.
But pointing out that Congress and the administration are responsible for the torture and how reprehensible the torture is never got any attention. The part that gets quoted is right at the end (my emphasis):

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.
Now, if you search Google News you'll see opinion pages brimming with claims that Durbin compared American soldiers to Nazis and Pol Pot.

Find the sentence where he makes that comparison between people. It doesn't exist. He compares actions. Our soldiers' actions are dictated by policies, and those policies trace from the highest levels. He spent hundreds of words detailing how those policies violate basic principles of American and international law, as well as good sense, and how the decisions were made at the highest levels.

He isn't blaming the soldiers, he's blaming George Bush and Alberto Gonzales.

The reason people are beating up on Durbin for comparing the soldiers to Nazis, Soviets, or the Khmer Rouge is that there are still wingnuts who believe that this is about a few bad apples. If this is just bad apples, the actions are not being imposed from the Oval Office, they are arising naturally from American farm boys. If you understand that the torture is condoned and encouraged at the highest levels, the comparison isn't between the soldiers and the SS, but between Bush and Pol Pot. If you cover your ears and insist that torture is just an accident, you don't have to see the broader comparison, and you can contain your shame.

So it's a shame that Durbin apologized. He did it eloquently, but he still backed down:
Some may believe that my remarks crossed a line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.

There's usually a quote from Abraham Lincoln that you can turn to in moments like this. Maybe this is the right one. Lincoln said, ‘If the end brings me out right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, 10,000 angels swearing I was right wouldn't make any difference.’

In the end, I don't want anything that I may have said detract from the love for my country, my respect for those who bravely risk their lives each day for our security, and this Senate which I am so honored to serve as a member. I offer my apology for those offended by my words. I promise to speak out on the issues that I think are important to the people of Illinois and to the nation.
Here's what I'd have loved to see.

Instead of an apology, Durbin should have stuck to his guns. A few other senators with safe seats could have stood by him. Every day, they could just put another log on the bonfire of abuses. Would they get attacked? You bet. And they'd defend themselves.

The only way they'll ever be proven right is to stand up and demand to be heard. Every day, bump up the rhetoric, so it makes the evening news every day. Talk about Iraqi generals who surrendered and where then killed by being used as a trampoline. Talk about mothers being forced to watch as soldiers rape their children.

Put it all out there, and force the administration to respond. Eventually, they'll want to hold hearings to have a chance to respond. And that's the game.

By wimping out now, the wingnuts can pretend to be vindicated. Undoubtedly, the conservative hivemind has already produced thousands of headlines of the form "Durbin surrenders." And surrendering is not how you win a war.

Wise and Foolish Virgins (Tender Virgins)” by Mississippi John Hurt from the album Complete Studio Recordings (2000, 2:52).