Sunday, June 19

Durbin's Quiet Gitmo Storm

Last week, just prior to hearings on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) spoke out on the many problems our detention policy at Gitmo, proving the age-old axiom that no truly good deed goes unpunished.

I am a member of the Judiciary Committee. For two years I have asked for hearings on this issue. I am glad Chairman Specter will hold a hearing on wartime detention policies tomorrow, I thank him for taking this step. I wish other members of his party would be willing to hold this administration accountable as well.

It is worth reflecting for a moment about how we have reached this point. Many people who read history remember as World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, a country in fear after being attacked decided one way to protect America was to gather together Japanese Americans and literally imprison them, put them in internment camps for fear they would be traitors and turn on the United States. We did that. Thousands of people, good American citizens, who happened to be of Japanese ancestry, were treated like common criminals.

It took almost 40 years for us to acknowledge that we were wrong, to admit that these people should never have been imprisoned. It was a shameful period in American history and one that very few, if any, try to defend today.

I believe the torture techniques that have been used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanemo and other places fall into the same category. I am confident, sadly confident as I stand here, that decades from now people will look back and say: What were they thinking?


In his memo to [then White House Counsel] Gonzales, Secretary Powell on setting aside the Geneva Conventions " will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice and undermine the protections of law of war for our own troops... It will undermine public support among critical allies, making military cooperation more difficult to sustain".

When you look at the negative publicity about Guantanamo, Secretary Colin Powell was prophetic.


Military sources, according to the media, indicate that many detainees have no connection to al-Qaida or the Taliban and were sent to Guananamo over the objections of intelligence personnel who recommended their release. One military officer said:

"We're basically condemning these guys to a long-term imprisonment. If they weren't terrorists before, they certainly could be now".

Last year, in two landmark decisions, the Supreme Court rejected the administration's detention policy. The Court held that the detainees claims that they were detained for over two years without charge and without access to counsel "unquestionably describe custody in violation of the Constitution, or laws and treaties of the United States".

The Court also held that an American citizen held as an enemy combatant must be told the basis for his detention and have a fair opportunity to challenge the Government's claims. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the majority:

"A state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

Ignoring all of the salient points made by the Senator, Republican operatives chose instead to attack his one comment that "If I read this [FBI Report of Torture Techniques used at Guantanemo] 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.".

The New York Post stated:

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) is a dis grace to the people he serves, the U.S. Senate and the United States of America.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (who himself was forced to resign amid scandal and disgrace) called for the Congress to censure Durbin.

"Senator Richard Durbin has dishonored the United States and the entire U.S. Senate. Only by a vote to censure Senator Durbin for his conduct can the U.S. Senate restore its dignity and defend American honor," Gingrich wrote.

Fox News Jim Angle Reported:


ANGLE: Late today, in an interview with Fox, Senator Durbin stuck by his comments and insisted the FBI memo alleged the actual torture of a prisoner.


DURBIN: It isn't just the denial of simple creature comforts. What was involved here is nothing short of torture.

ANGLE: But a knowledgeable official familiar with this and other memos said the FBI agent made no such allegation, that his memo only described someone chained to the floor, and that anything beyond that is simply interpretation. And several Republican senators took to the floor late today to say there is no evidence of torture and that Durbin's comparisons to the Soviets, Pol Pot and the Nazis have no basis in fact or history.

So intense have been the attacks that Durbin has been forced to apologize, allowing the heat of criticism to obscure the truthful light that shown in his original commentary:

On Friday, Durbin tried to clarify the issue. "My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this administration, which add to the risk our soldiers face," he said in a statement released Friday afternoon. "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."

Contrary to other Republican claims that Durbin has "damaged the reputation of men and women in uniform" the FBI Email in question complains that U.S. Military and Intelligence Officers were using a variation of the "False Flag" strategem (authorized by Donald Rumseld for use in Guantanemo on April 16, 2003), attempting to IMPERSONATE FBI PERSONNEL while engaging in unlawful behavior in order to avoid accountability.

"Of concern, DOD interrogators impersonating Supervisory Special Agents of the FBI...These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and CITF believes that techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee.

If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD officials will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done by "FBI" interrogators. The FBI will be left holding the bag before the public.

In this particular case, the persons using torture - were not in Uniform. So the arguement that Durbin was insulting our uniformed "men and women" as the White House has claimed in patently ridiculous. This issue has been ajudicated as unlawful by the Supreme Court, yet Guantanamo, Bagram AFB and other detention centers continue to function to this very day.

Clearly the question of how to deal with non-uniformed enemy combatants is far from a simple one. In a normal war, uniformed POW's would be detained until the end of hostilities - and then released back to their native countries. In this case, we have people fighting without uniform, without declaring their country of origin, in a Global War or Terror without End. At no point in the future will we be able to simply release genuinely dangerous prisoners without the risk of them returning to the "battle". Nor can we legally keep them in indefinate detention without access to legal council or tribunal to determine if they are in fact, enemy combatants guilty of war crimes against Iraq and the United States, or not. And certainly, as the FBI email points out - we can't prosecute anyone whose been tortured, or prosecute anyone who has been captured by use of information gained via torture -- the Constitution simply does not allow for coerced testimony to be used in a court of law.

Many lawmakers have recently suggested the shutdown of Guantanemo, but this also ignores the true issue - which is the unlawful policy which was put into place by the Bush Administration under the false cover of the Gonzales-Bybee memos. We have to change the policy and bring it back into compliance with the U.S. Constitution and Geneva Conventions, not simply play a shell-game with the detainees moving them from one unlawful facility to another.

The answer here remains illusive, our battle againsts the forces of international terror is sure to be long and difficult, but certainly - we can do far better than this. We have to.


1 comment:

Vyan said...

Star Tribune Editorial: Durbin's message/U.S. must end prisoner abuse
June 21, 2005

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., set off a firestorm last week when he compared U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo to practices employed by Nazis, Soviets, Pol Pot and their ilk. His remarks were condemned by the White House, the Pentagon, the Christian Coalition, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Newt Gingrich (who called for his censure by the Senate) and by the entire right side of the talk radio/television/blog world. The heat got so bad that, late in the week, Durbin apologized if his remarks had been "misunderstood." They weren't, and Durbin should not have apologized.

Instead, the senator should have hit back hard, just as the Amnesty International did when its comparison of Guantanamo to the Soviet gulag was attacked. By caving in, Durbin did just what the orchestrated right-wing smear effort required to succeed: It made him the story rather than focusing further attention on the outrageous violations of international law and human rights being perpetrated in Guantanamo and elsewhere in the name of the American people.


Durbin was spot on in his assessment of Guantanamo. That's why he was so roundly attacked. He told the truth. And his message is of vital importance; the United States is better than this.


But instead of discussing what goes on at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other prison camps, the right would prefer to get into a senseless argument about whether "we" are better than the Nazis or Saddam Hussein or the Soviets or Pol Pot or whomever a critic of Guantanamo might raise as a comparison. It's a tactic the group running Washington now has used again and again: They're quite deliberately changing the subject -- from Guantanamo to words spoken on the Senate floor.