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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
The Anti-Defamation League has called on Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin to apologize for comparing alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay to torture and killing by the Nazi regime.
“Whatever your views on the treatment of detainees and alleged excesses at the Guantanamo Bay facility, it is inappropriate and insensitive to suggest that actions by American troops in any way resemble actions taken by Nazis in their treatment of prisoners,” wrote ADL head Abraham Foxman in a letter to the Illinois lawmaker.
[See video of the remarks here.]
On the Senate floor late Tuesday, Durbin read an e-mail message from an FBI agent describing alleged prisoner abuse. The senator said if he didn’t identify the source of the information “you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime.”
Yesterday, after the remarks drew outrage from talk radio and weblogs, Durbin refused to back down, charging that right-wing media misrepresented his remarks.
He insisted he wasn’t criticizing service personnel but pointing out abusive treatment of prisoners was something more likely in “repressive regimes” than the United States.
“The administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions,” Durbin said.
Foxman said the suggestion of an equivalence between the tactics of the U.S. military and the Nazis “demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about the horrors that Hitler and his regime actually perpetrated.”
“We urge you to repudiate your remarks and apologize to the American people for distorting an important issue with an inappropriate comparison to Nazi tactics,” he said.
An angry American Legion National Commander Thomas P. Cadmus said Durbin’s remarks could make him the “Hanoi Jane of this conflict.”
“Many veterans believe Jane Fonda’s remarks gave aid and comfort to the enemy,” he said. “It sure provided them with plenty of propaganda fodder. I am totally outraged by his hideous slight of those he should be honoring for their selfless devotion to this nation.”
Cadmus also called for an apology.
“There are lies and there are damn lies!” he said. “Senator Durbin knows better and owes every man and woman in the United States Armed Forces an apology for his totally inaccurate remarks comparing our sons and daughters to crimes of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot.”
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., is among Republican leaders who want Durbin to apologize, warning such “loose comments” with no basis in fact could harm men and women in the U.S. military.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Durbin’s remarks “reprehensible.”
“It’s a real disservice to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold our values and our laws,” he said. “To compare the way our military treats detainees with the Soviet gulags, the Nazi concentration camps and Pol Pot’s regime is simply reprehensible.”
McClellan said suggestions that the enemy combatants detained at Guantanamo should be released just are “simply beyond belief to me.”
“These are dangerous individuals who were picked up on the battlefield,” he said. “They were picked up on the battlefield in the fight against American forces. They were picked up on the battlefield because they are individuals who are involved in plots to do harm to the American people and to innocent civilians.”
McClellan said U.S. military personnel “go out of their way to treat detainees humanely, and they go out of their way to hold the values and the laws that we hold so dear in this country. And when you talk about the gulags and the concentration camps in Pol Pot’s regime, millions of people, innocent people, were killed by those regimes.”
Quoting the FBI agent, Durbin said Tuesday night:
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 happened 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.
Elected to the Senate in 1996, Durbin was chosen by his Democratic colleagues in December as Democratic whip, the second-highest position for the minority party.