Published June 18, 2005
WASHINGTON – Sen. Dick Durbin (search) on Friday defended his criticism of the Guantanamo detainee camp, after GOP leaders called on key Democrats to denounce his remarks.
"More than 1,700 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," Durbin said. "I will continue to speak out when I disagree with this administration."
Durbin's statements were made in reaction to a letter House Republicans sent House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (search) Friday asking her to publicly condemn his comments from earlier in the week.
"Does the speech made by Senator Durbin also reflect your views as the House Democratic Leader? If not, we respectfully request that you publicly renounce Senator Durbin's comments. These sorts of irresponsible comments send the wrong message to our soldiers," stated the letter signed by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and three other GOP leaders.
Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Friday that he was sorry if his initial inflammatory comments had been taken the wrong way.
"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," he said. "My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this administration, which add to the risk our soldiers face."
In the remarks first expressed on the Senate floor late Tuesday, the Illinois Democrat read the report of an FBI agent who described treatment of prisoners at the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba.
Among the descriptions, the report noted one case in which a detainee was held in such cold temperatures that he shivered, another in which a prisoner was held in heat passing 100 degrees, one in which prisoners were left in isolation so long they fouled themselves and one where a prisoner 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.
Following those remarks, Durbin clarified that he was not comparing U.S. soldiers to Pol Pot (search), Nazis or Soviet guards, but was "attributing this form of interrogation to repressive regimes such as those that I note.
"If this indeed occurred, it does not represent American values. It does not represent what our country stands for, it is not the sort of conduct we would ever condone ... and that is the point I was making. Now, sadly, we have a situation here where some in the right-wing media have said that I have been insulting men and women in uniform. Nothing could be further from truth," Durbin said.
Questioned by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., Durbin said that he does not know if the interrogators cited in the FBI report were Americans.
Sen. Sam Brownback (search), R-Kan., told FOX News that he thinks Durbin's remarks were "clearly over the top."
Brownback urged lawmakers critical of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility to back away from talk advocating the camp's closure.
"I would really hope that most people would back away from that and start focusing on the War on Terror," Brownback said.
On Thursday evening, Durbin went to the Senate floor to repeat the controversial statement he made two days earlier and insist he said nothing objectionable.
Under Pol Pot's regime, 1.5 million died in death camps and another 200,000 so-called "enemies of the state" were executed. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews and forced hundreds of thousands into slave labor. The USSR's Joseph Stalin (search) sent 25 million people to labor camps where many were worked to death.
Republicans and Bush administration officials called the comparison between those horrors and the U.S. prison camp's guards "reprehensible" and "deplorable."
"Clearly, that's over the top. That is not what is happening at Guantanamo Bay. What is happening at Guantanamo Bay is we're trying to treat people humanely, recognizing that these are terrorists," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
"Senator Durbin's statements are deplorable. He should ask for forgiveness, forgiveness from our troops, from their families and all of us who are trying to win this War on Terror," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va.
To compare treatment by guards at Guantanamo Bay to "concentration camps and Pol Pot's regime is simply reprehensible," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "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.
Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he had inquired as to whether the FBI's descriptions are true.
"I was trained as a lawyer, many years as a prosecutor dealt with the bureau, have the highest respect. But I do not accept at face value everything they put down on paper until I make certain it can be corroborated and substantiated.
"And for you to come to the floor with just that fragment of a report and then unleash the words 'the Nazis,' unleash the word 'gulag,' unleash 'Pol Pot,' I don't know how many remember that chapter, it seems to me that was a grievous error in judgment and leaves open to the press of the world to take those three extraordinary chapters in world history and try to intertwine it with what has taken place, allegedly, at Guantanamo," Warner said.
The military operates under strict guidelines that are widely distributed. Only mild non-injurious physical contact is allowed, such as light pushing. Sleep deprivation is used along with stress positions, but they are limited in time.
One knowledgeable official familiar with the memo cited by Durbin as well as other memos said the FBI agent made no such allegation and that the memo described only someone chained to the floor. Anything beyond that is simply an interpretation, the official said.
Several Democrats declined to comment on Durbin's remarks. Those who did chose their words carefully, saying questions remain about interrogations.
"I don't think, however, that I would go quite as far as he would because, for example, I don't think we need to close down Guantanamo Bay," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-Va.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada suggested that the more unpopular President Bush becomes, the louder the noise from the White House to distract from its failed policies.
"The more the popularity of the president plummets, the more the people downtown try to play the game of attack," Reid said. "This is all an attempt at distracting us from the officials before us ... Do we have a problem with the issues [Durbin] is discussing? Yes, let's focus on them."
FOX News' Brian Wilson, Jim Angle and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.