Sunday, June 19, 2005

Durbin, Gitmo, and What Really Needs to Be Said

This past week, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) made headlines with comments he made about the treatment of prisoners at the Guantanomo Bay detention facility. After quoting an FBI agent's eyewitness report of acts of torture conducted at "Gitmo", Durbin told his colleagues,
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.


Katherine said...

he didn't really apologize. It was barely even a non-apology apology.

He's got guts.

Ning Bao said...

So what you got to realize is that once you get up that high in politics, intentionally misrepresenting the truth is a skill, not an impediment, because the average American is basicaly trustful of the people who represent them about "big picture" issues, and if the conservatives can get middle America to dislike or otherwise discount the Senator, then their work is done without any real thought about how to refute or counter his argument. It's politically very efficient.

That does not, however, make it right. There have been offenses against human rights in Guantanimo. This has been established. Why are right wingers still defending this? If a smart left winger picked up on this, he could point out that, yes, perhaps the servicement are not the equivalent of Nazis, but that does not make their actions any more excusable. In fact, it makes it less so; their lack of respect for the very thing that their country is supposed to represent is a strike against the American credo of tolerance and human rights. If anything, they should be punished more severely. And, why, pray tell, are these conservatives defending their actions? This is what liberals do best; fan up the moral outrage. Again, this track is very politically efficient because it targets the moral underpinnings of the average voter.
Let's just say the Guantanimo should never have happened, and make sure that the people in charge of what happened get the punishments they deserve, and then apologize profusely to the international community about the hypocrisy which we have been espousing, while promising to change all that. Our dirty laundry has already been held out for all the world to see. It's time that we own up to it; it is the first step in reclaiming America's legitimacy as a defender of human rights, by showing that not even our nation can get away with it unscathed.