Friday, June 17, 2005

My senior Senator will never be regarded by history as another Daniel Webster or Arthur Vandenberg but even for Dick Durbin it is not every day that he manages to insult American veterans, Holocaust survivors and victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Quite a rhetorical trifecta !

The other day, from the Senate floor, in the midst of an overheated attack on the Bush administration's parameters for interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Durbin let fly with this ahistorical gem:

"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, reasonable people can disagree about whether or not al Qaida detainees should be entitled to P.O.W. status under the Geneva Convention - those who think they should, like Senator Durbin, don't have a legal leg to stand on - but the argument can be made. Likewise, the Bush administration has invited criticism of their Guantanamo policy by keeping detainees in legal limbo instead of moving forward with military tribunals. It is perfectly legitimate to argue that the value of what tough interrogation techniques yield pales in terms the damage caused to America's image abroad, particularly in the Muslim world. But the al Qaida terrorist detainees are not the moral equivalent of terrified Jews being herded to Auschwitz and the American guards at Guantanamo are not the SS.

That kind of analogy, that Senator Durbin fervently believes, can only be described as morally grotesque as well as profoundly ignorant. A U.S. Senator should have more sense.

Mr. Durbin has degraded the suffering of those who went through hell on Earth to survive Genocide by putting their experiences on par with the interrogation discomforts of mass-murderers like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It is the latter who is in the same moral ballpark with Heinrich Himmler or Pol Pot, not some Marine Guard at Gitmo or President Bush.

If somebody in the USG happens to be reading this blog, please forward this post to Senator Durbin's office with the suggestion that he take a break from his partisan duties and visit the nearby United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a few hours to find out what the victims of Nazism really went through.

Hopefully the good Senator might then think twice in the future about the nature of his historical analogies.

UPDATE I: Jeff at Caerdroia weighs in on Durbin ( Jeff is a former, temporary, Chicagoan)

UPDATE II: Idiotic commentary at DailyKos on same ( Hat tip Jeff)

UPDATE III: Senator Durbin starts his backtracking

UPDATE IV: The Captain's Quarters blasts Durbin for attempting to spin:

"This, of course, is the classic example of the non-apology apology. Note that he doesn't retract a word of what he said. He says that he regrets if others misunderstood his "true feelings", not that what he said was wrong and historically inept. Basically, this is the translation one is meant to hear:

I'm sorry you were too stupid to understand me.

If this is the best that Durbin can do after comparing the men and women of our armed forces to Nazis and Stalin's goons, as well as comparing Islamofascist terrorists to Japanese-American victims of WWII detention centers, then he's a bigger idiot than I thought."

"But the al Qaida terrorist detainees are not the moral equivalent of terrified Jews being herded to Auschwitz and the American guards at Guantanamo are not the SS."

How do you know that they are not the moral equivalent if you, me, the United States of America, and the world has not been allowed to witness a trial in order to make that moral judgement. The problem with your statement above is that it conveniently pretends that all of these men have been proven guilty. I guess your logic is that they wouldn't be in Guantanamo if they were innocent.

My response to that logic is simple. From an innocent man's perspective it doesn't matter what language his abuser speaks (German, Russian, Vietnamese, or English) or the righteousness of their goal (The Global War on Terror) or the authority of their god (Ours of course). What matters to the innocent, incarcerated, physically and mentally tormented man is that justice has not occurred for him.

And this is why the words of Dick Durbin fail to impress you and instead actually anger you. Senator Durbin sees justice through the eyes of the accused. You, unfortunately, see justice through the eyes of the warden. For you the place (Guantanamo) plus the uniform (Orange jumper) beget the verdict (Guilty).

Hopefully enough people will come to realize that the warden of any man is only allowed to administer justice when the accused has seen justice done.

Your reasoning is as erroneous as Durbin's, though expressed with greater cleverness and less offensively.Let me explain why.

First, since you seem to be unfamiliar with my views on Guantanamo, I've criticized the Bush administration many times here and in other forums for their failure to bring the Guantanamo detainees to trial before a proprly constituted court-martial or military tribunal.Indefinite administrative detention, which is the current Bush policy, is not a legal option under UCMJ, the Constitution or the Laws of War.

Secondly, there is the matter of scale and proportion. Even accepting *all* of the complaints of al Qaida detainees at face value, the treatment they have received does not remotely compare to that of a prisoner in a Soviet labor camp, much less Cambodia's killing fields or a Nazi death camp. It's not like the disparity between the conditions of Guantanamo and Treblinka are not verifiable.

The only way such an outrageous comparison could be made is out of ignorance of the latter conditions or from *intellectual dishonesty* in an effort to seek partisan advantage. I'll leave to others to judge which applies to Senator Durbin.

Third, you have used a conceptual sleight of hand in your argument. The detainees are *not* civilian criminal suspects but captured combatants in a state of armed conflict. Under international law you can argue how Geneva applies to them but " innocent until proven guilty" is not the question here. The operative legal question is:

1. Are these men entitled to P.O.W. status because they have adhered to Geneva standards of bearing arms openly, wearing recognizable uniforms and not directly targeting noncombatants ?

When that question is settled you can then look to trying select individual detainees suspected of having committed war crimes beyond fighting out of uniform.
I was struck by how the Senator's comments work as a moral Isolation attack on the United States and a moral connection to the terrorists.

The militants can play Durban's comments, translate honestly, and say "See! Even their own Senators know of their great evil! We are a liberation army. Do not fret if you do not like beheading Americans (or whatever deed). We are fighting this war for the freedom of all peoples, even Americans, from their Nazi-like government. Americans, your enemy is not surrounding your country. Your enemy is ruling your country."

Soviet dissidents helped end the dream of World Communism. High-ranking American dissidents like Durban may help abort World Freedom.

-Dan tdaxp
Hi Dan,

"I was struck by how the Senator's comments work as a moral Isolation attack on the United States and a moral connection to the terrorists."

In all fairness to Dick Durbin, whose career I've watched for the last decade,he might possibly be under the impression that the Geneva Convention refers to a gathering in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He's about that bright.

Durbin's moronic commentary functions exactly as you describe Dan but I think his focus is on his new constituency, the national Party activist Left.He's playing for their approval and he didn't really know what the hell he was talking about.

I just checked the Trib - Durbin issued an apology of sorts:


"My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this Administration, which add to the risk our soldiers face," he said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "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."
Republican acceptance of the mistreatment of prisoners - whatever they supposedly have done, if we will ever know - shows the moral unseriousness of the Right in this country. Simply put, Americans are not supposed to treat people that way. Way to lose a war, Mark.
Hi Mithras,

Isn't it one sign of a morally unserious person in politics to compare anything and everything they do not like to the Nazis ?
By that kind of logic of gross exaggeration, shouldn't I be calling Durbin a "traitor" for his remarks ? ( and yes , I'm sure some ppl have and they are wrong about Durbin for the same reason Durbin is wrong about Gitmo).

That's where employing rehetoric of demonization leads. It's possible to oppose a range of problems while maintaining a rational discrimination between the magnitude of various problems or admitting a particular problem's moral complexity.

The detainees are not and should not be granted POW status unless we wish to reward and encourage fighting out of uniform and direct targeting of civilians. The ppl who argue that terrorists are automatically POWs are destroying Geneva by demanding that documents protections for those who follow no rules in warfare whatsoever. That does not mean that torturing them is " Ok" - they should be tried under military proceedings according to the Laws of War.

There's a serious case to be made that the Bush administration policy at Guantanamo is counterproductive and ultimately damaging to American interests. Durbin however is incapable of making that kind of case effectively.
In the words of a certain liberal activist group, it is time to censure and move on.
"But the al Qaida terrorist detainees are not the moral equivalent of terrified Jews being herded to Auschwitz and the American guards at Guantanamo are not the SS."

Comparisons are relative.

A is to B as C is to D does not imply that A=C or B=D it is just that they relate in the same way.

So one must consider the environment. Jews in camps with SS guards must be viewed in the environment of Germany in WWII.

Same with Gulags in Russia.

Clearly those abuses were far worse, but they were conducted in Dictatorships. We are not a dictatorship, yet, we are a democracy that says we value human rights. In that environment these actions a Gitmo are rightly compareable.
Hi Roy,

You are dropping a very important context from your argument. We are a democracy at war.

Stalin and Hitler filled their concentration, slave labor and death camps with millions of *civilians* who had committed no particular crime and were incarcerated on the basis of social/class/political/racial category. Both, though Stalin in particular, did so on a mass scale during peacetime. This was an integral part of their totalitarian systems, not aberrations of their systems.

Taliban and al Qaida members are *combatants* at war with the United States - most of the former and *all* of the latter being illegal combatants - not civilian non-combatants. This is a moral difference of kind, not degree, with European Jewry during the Holocaust.

Bush has erred by not bringing them to duly constituted military trials, not because they are being held captive in Guantanamo.
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