WASHINGTON – "Reprehensible" is the word used by the White House to describe remarks made by Sen. Dick Durbin (search) earlier this week comparing the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to victims of Nazis, Soviet gulags and Cambodia's Khmer Rouge.
To compare treatment by guards at Guantanamo Bay to "concentration camps and Pol Pot's regime is simply reprehensible," White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "I just think those remarks are reprehensible and they are a real disservice to our men and women in uniform. Our men and women in uniform go out of their way to treat detainees humanely, and they go out of their way to uphold the values and the laws we hold so dear to our country.
"When you talk about the gulags and the concentration camps and Pol Pot's regime, millions of people, innocent people were killed by those regimes," he said.
In remarks on the Senate floor late Tuesday, Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, read the report of an FBI agent who described treatment of prisoners at Gitmo, including one detainee being held in such cold temperatures that he shivered, another who was held in heat passing 100 degrees and one who was chained to the floor and forced to listen to loud rap music.
"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.
Durbin's remarks are part of a growing campaign by Democrats and human rights groups to close down the facility. But the comparison sparked an angry response from Republicans and others who said the comments were over the top.
"Senator Durbin's comments come as a great disservice to our military personnel in Guantanamo. They are also a great disservice to all U.S. soldiers and veterans who have fought, and continue to fight, to overcome evil regimes and spread democracy around the world," said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna, who asked Durbin to apologize.
Durbin had no such plans, spokesman Joe Shoemaker said.
"This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure," Durbin said in a statement Wednesday evening.
Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita commented Thursday that Durbin may want to see the prison before he criticizes it.
"Anyone who would make such outlandish comments has an obligation to visit the facility at Guantanamo Bay. Our records suggest Senator Durbin has never been there. He may also want to visit the memorials to the victims of Pol Pot and Stalin and then decide if he wants to live the rest of his life with that comment," DiRita said.
Durbin's remarks are not the first time the treatment of prisoners in U.S. facilities have been compared to totalitarian regimes.
Amnesty International (search) called the prison "the gulag of our time" in a report. William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, later acknowledged that the facility is not a forced labor camp, but did not back down from linking military prisons to the Soviet camps.
"The U.S. is running an archipelago of detention facilities — many of them secret facilities — around the world and people in those are being disappeared into them … they are being held incommunicado," Schulz told FOX News.
The Bush administration has so far rejected calls to close down Guantanamo Bay, with officials saying that while the military is working to establish the status of the "enemy combatants," most are terrorists who would harm the United States if released.
"To suggest that these enemy combatants that are detained at Guantanamo Bay should be released just is simply beyond reason. These are dangerous individuals who were picked up on the battlefield ... in the fight against American forces," McClellan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.