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Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Consequences of Truth: Durbin edition

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin came under some heat this past week for going on the Senator floor and calling attention to some of the abuses at the Guantanamo Bay prison. The Chicago Tribune reported his words today:
Durbin read aloud from an FBI agent's detailed e-mail complaining about the "torture techniques" visited upon one Al Qaeda prisoner.

That e-mail described how the agent 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 had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 to 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."
The Tribune did not report the rest of the Senator's paragraph (read the entire speech if you'd like), also taken from the FBI agent's email:
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 then delivered a powerful punchline, not unlike the one recently delivered by Amnesty International:
"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," Durbin said.
For these words, Durbin has been crucified by the right.

Fellow Senator John Warner of Virginia said that he had demonstrated "a grievous error in judgment." White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan called the speech "reprehensible." Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh called for his resignation!

Vice President Cheney also joined in this attempt to shoot the messenger:
I thought Durbin was totally out of line. I watched some of his comments on the floor of the United States Senate. For him to make those comparisons was one of the more egregious things I'd ever heard uttered on the floor of the United States was so far over the top that I'm just appalled that anybody who serves in the United States Senate would even think those thoughts.
Now, apparently, Durbin has backed off a bit:
"More than 1700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and our country’s standing in the world community has been badly damaged by the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this Administration which add to the risk our soldiers face."

"I will continue to speak out when I disagree with this Administration."

"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."
I can understand that Durbin may fear that his words will be taken out of context and used against him, just as John Kerry's famous testimony during the Vietnam War was during the 2004 campaign season.

However, in his speech, Durbin pointed out that the Supreme Court eventually stood up to Abraham Lincoln when he suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War and that the US now very much regrets the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

America needs more people of conviction like Senator Richard Durbin. Contact his office and tell him that you support his attempt to speak truth to power. It appears he could use the boost.

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