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.
Durbin made the essentialy true statement that American soldiers at Guantanomo Bay engaged in activities one would not normally associate with a country respectful of basic human rights. Note that he did not suggest that American soldiers were the moral equivalent of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, or that the U.S. army has murdered millions of people a la Stalin.
But for his simple observation alone, the backlash against the senator from Illinois was swift. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal led the assault, immediately charging that Durbin had "likened American servicemen to Nazis." This entire week, outraged conservative commentators have displayed their lack of reading/listening comprehension skills and used the Scare Quote ('Durbin says American soldiers = Nazis!') to indulge themselves in some shameful slander.
Worse, no prominent Democrats raised their voice to defend Durbin and to clarify what was really said. Durbin, for his part, held out for several days before finally apologizing for his "misunderstood" speech. Does anyone in Congress or the media have an above-elementary school education? How does an effort to focus serious attention on the controversial ongoings at Guantanamo Bay turn into an excuse for bloggers to run rampant and unchecked?
Whether or not one agrees with the necessity and usefulness of the Gitmo prison--and this issue does not fall on partisan lines--the debate should not be sidelined by useless metaphors and sideshow theatrics. America needs to decide whether it is in its best interest--as a defender of freedom, democracy, and human rights--to be saddled with the baggage of Gitmo and all its resulting backlash. Gitmo's supporters, for their part, can end the debate by providing incontrovertible evidence of the center's benefits to national security. The last thing we need is to get hung up on petty, irrelevant issues that provide a boost only to the egos of certain congressmen, op-ed columnists, and bloggers.