Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) drew a White House rebuke yesterday for comparing the treatment of prisoners at the naval detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the interrogation tactics of the Nazis and the Soviet gulags. But Durbin defended his comments and said conditions there were not worthy of a democracy such as the United States.
In a Senate floor speech Tuesday, Durbin cited an FBI report describing Guantanamo Bay prisoners chained to the floor in the fetal position without food or water and sometimes in extreme temperatures.
"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," he said, "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."
By yesterday, Durbin found himself under attack from leading Republicans and their conservative allies. White House press secretary Scott McClellan, asked about the statement, responded by saying: "I think the senator's remarks are reprehensible. It's a real disservice to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold our values and our laws."
Later, Durbin came under attack on the Senate floor from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Warner said Durbin had committed "a grievous misjudgment" by comparing what may have happened at Guantanamo Bay to some of the most murderous regimes in history.
Durbin said his comments had been misinterpreted as an attack on the U.S. military, adding he did not even know who was in charge of the particular interrogation cited in the FBI agent's account. "Sadly, we have a situation here where some in the right-wing media say I've been insulting men and women in uniform," he said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth."
Durbin conceded that the regimes he had cited had committed horrors far beyond the techniques he had condemned at Guantanamo. But he said it was "no exaggeration" to suggest that the techniques cited by the FBI agent were not acceptable in a democracy. "This is the kind of thing you expect from repressive regimes but not from the United States," he said.