Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Word on Durbin

I have commented little on the unfortunate comments made last week by Senator Dick Durbin. I use the word unfortunate for two different reasons. First, the historical allusions used by Durbin were unfortunate, because (like many of Dean's recent zingers) they removed the focus from the underlying issue of prisoner abuses and put the spotlight on Durbin's words instead. Second, the fact that the comments had to be made at all is unfortunate - and, in my opinion, much more so. A United States senator should never have been put in the position of going to the floor of the Senate and reading a report from an FBI agent who had visited an American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and written this:

"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."

Durbin's afterword to the report, which is what has gotten him into trouble, has been criticized by many as "comparing American troops to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot." It's true, those names were mentioned together in the same paragraph; but I agree with Alan's conclusion at The Yellow Line that "
Certainly the infamous tyrants of the 20th century were so systematically evil as to be no possible comparison to modern America, but Durbin wasn’t comparing those tyrants to America. He was comparing chaining a man to a wall until he defecates on himself to the kinds of torture you might find under tyrants." Indeed. And that's the issue we ought to be focusing on - is this the kind of thing America should be engaging in?

We need a national debate about how we handle detainees captured on the battlefields of terror. We need to decide whether we as Americans will stoop to the level of mistreating or even torturing prisoners to get information, and we must decide if holding detainees in perpetuity without any kind of charges comports with the values we as Americans hold dearest. Personally, I don't believe it does. I agree with John McCain, and others, that all detainees ought to have their cases adjudicated - and if they are found to be innocent, they should be released. We must balance concerns that released detainees will return to their homes and fight America again with the real danger that keeping people detained indefinitely only leads to more terrorist recruitment as resentments rise around around the world.

As a corollary to that belief, that detainees acquitted of charges should be released, I'd much rather they return to their homes and say that although they were held in detention by America, that they were treated decently, as I firmly believe the vast majority of them have been. What a boost such words would give to America's reputation around the world, and particularly in the vital Mideast region. I feel like I'm always making the "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar" argument, but I suspect it's just as true in this instance as anywhere else.

We need a national debate, and a vital first step in having that debate will be declaring a moratorium on overheated rhetoric. American troops can't be and shouldn't be compared to Nazis, Stalinists, or the Khmer Rouge. But it's not all wine and roses at Guantanamo Bay either. This shouldn't be about a few words from Dick Durbin; it should be about America's view of herself and her role in the world. Let's talk about that. This isn't an issue for Republicans and Democrats to bat back and forth - this is an American issue, and one too important to denigrate with hyperbole.


At 9:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amnesty International and Dick Durbin -- a dim bulb in a chamber not shot through with bright illumination -- have combined to give the impression torture is policy at Guantanamo. You appear by your posting to disbelieve this, but the damage is done. This libewl is far more than "unfortunate," a word too mild to describe this disgrace.

At 12:02 PM, Blogger Kokopelli said...

Wow...someone who actually gets it. The smoke and mirrors becomes the focus and we miss the real show. Keep it up, Rino!

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Shay said...

When I hear stories about acid baths and the like at the Gitmo Bay facility, then I will believe that torture is taking place there. What I've heard so far is humiliation, not torture. And far better treatment than Americans and other folks receive when under detention by jihadists. When will folks cry out that jihadists must raise their standards?

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Molotov -

As for your belief:

The following happened in Afghanistan, not Gitmo, but it was still done under the imprimature of the United States - that's you and me. It was reported in the NYT, but I picked this up at Bloomberg.

... an uneducated Afghan villager known as Dilawar, who was sent by his mother to pick up his sisters for a Muslim holiday on Dec. 5, 2002. Before he got there, Dilawar was rounded up as a suspect in a rocket attack. The Times described his torment by the U.S. military in articles on May 20 and 22.

Torture for Amusement

For much of his five days in custody, Dilawar was brutalized, hung from the ceiling of his cell, even though no one thought he was a terrorist or had any useful information. Military policemen took turns kicking him above the knee because they found it amusing to hear him cry out ``Allah.''
When he was too weak to follow orders during interrogations - - his knees wouldn't bend, his legs shook uncontrollably --Dilawar was attacked, the Times reported. One sergeant grabbed him by his beard, crushed his bare foot with her boot and then reared back and kicked him in the groin.
That night, an interrogator summoned an MP when he noticed Dilawar's head slumped forward in his hood and his hands limp in his chains. After pressing his fingernail to see that blood was still circulating, the MP left him there.
On Dec. 10, dragged in for what would be his last interrogation, Dilawar was incoherent. Angry at his unresponsiveness, an interrogator held him upright by twisting his hood around his neck. An intelligence specialist who spoke Dilawar's Pashto dialect was disturbed enough to notify the officer in charge. It was too late. Dilawar was already dead.


Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, U.S. commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, initially stonewalled, claiming that Dilawar was never abused and died of natural causes, according to the Times. The case was virtually closed until a March 4, 2003, article in the Times reported that an autopsy found Dilawar died from blunt force injuries that pulpified his lower extremities.
The Army reopened the inquiry and, more than two years later, seven soldiers were found complicit in his death. General McNeill, on the other hand, was promoted.
It's bad news for the ``few bad apples'' theory that interrogation techniques from prison camp to prison camp are remarkably similar. Shackling is standard operating procedure, even at an intake center like Bagram where the great majority of those arrested were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bases cross-pollinate. Shortly after Dilawar's death, Bagram's chief interrogator, Army Captain Carolyn Wood, was deployed to Abu Ghraib.

As to this silliness:

"When will folks cry out that jihadists must raise their standards?"

Since when do Americans base their sense of right and wrong on that of murderers? Is that really the morality you want us to adopt?


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