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Gitmo Versus the Gulag

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I have four questions that no one else seems to be asking about the salacious statements of Senator Dick Durbin (DEMOCRAT) of Illinois. To be complete, Sen. Durbin read a report of an FBI agent who gave an eyewitness account of a prisoner at Gitmo being ill-treated. He was bound, hand to feet, and lying on the ground in a fetal position. The room was alternately very cold and very hot. He was lying in his own excrement. They were playing rap music very loudly.

Senator Durbin suggested that if the description had been read without describing where it was taking place, we would have thought it was in a prison camp of the Nazis/Stalinist/Pol Pot.

Those who have been upset with Sen. Durbin have primarily argued that it is ridiculous to compare this incident or any similar incident with the treatment of the Nazis, Stalinists, or Pol Pot. Of course they are right, and it is an outrageous hyperbole. However, the comparison fails at several other levels that I’ve not seen mentioned.

1. In those regimes, treatment such as this and much worse was policy, and would not have been of concern to anyone in the ranks. Obviously, to Americans, even this level of handling was seen and reported as too much. Isn’t this an American Distinction that bears noting?

2. There would not have been a free press to report it, or free speech to debate it. Isn’t this part of our uniqueness as Americans that should be reported?

3. In no way does this treatment rise to the level of torture. If someone read it to me, and I didn’t know what is was describing, I would have thought of the “hole” in some jail, a crack house in downtown L.A. (except for the chains), or an S and M parlor. I wouldn’t have thought of Nazis. There I think of gold removed from teeth, scientific experiments on children. I wouldn’t have thought of Pol Pot. There I think of wholesale slaughter. I wouldn’t have thought of Stalin who would have never sent anyone to a place that had heat. Does anyone think that this rises to the level of torture?

4. These men are not innocents. The vast majority of those who were killed by Nazis, Pol Pot, and Stalin were innocent. The men we are holding are guilty of being part of a plan to kill innocents. We aren’t killing them, but treating them quite well. Wouldn’t this be an even more important moral distinction?

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About Randy

  • DMD

    And we know each and every single one of them are guilty because they were put on trial and judged guilty in a court?

  • Question number five, and I mean this sincerely. Why do you think it is a good idea to try them according to the principles of American jurisprudence as if they were criminals and either citizens or residents of the US?

  • From today’s Daily Howler:

    (H)ere’s the report Dick Durbin discussed. Does this sound anything like the America described in your children’s civics texts? Does this sound anything like the America adult citizens would present to the world?

    FBI REPORT (7/29/04): On a couple of occasions, I 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 urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 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…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 asked an obvious question: If you’d read that report, would you ever have thought that it was describing American conduct? Or would you have thought what Durbin said—that it must describe an evil regime, the type we have long denounced? The answer to that is perfectly obvious.

  • Did you even read my post? The only thing I left out was the hair. He might have done that to get attention.

    Did you miss the idea that I’ve heard stories worse than that from my friend who served in maximum security prisons in California? I’ve heard stoies worse than that of people who have done that or worse to themselves in crack houses (personal friends have told me of their own experiences or observations)

    If you told me they were pulling out fingernails, burning the soles of their feet, confining them in coffins, putting guns to their heads and pulling the trigger, I would call it torture. This has a long way to go, and it doesn’t remind me of those other regimes at all. I can’t imagine that if you’ve read about those other regimes or seen movies about them that it would seem coincidental to the description of this one agent about this one detainee.

  • Sean O’Connell

    I think its worth looking at the actual text of the Geneva Convention.
    Article 3 section 1: “..the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever..” Specifically
    Paragraph c. “Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment”

    The point being that the Geneva Convention covers not only the classic definition of tortured, e.g. physical abuse, but also the kind of behavior that Dick Durbin describes. The legal argument that the prisoners at Gitmo aren’t covered by the Geneva Convention is legally tenuous at best. Beyond that, it is in direct opposition to the spirit of what the Geneva Convention stands for. We as civilized nations all agreed after the horrors of World War I and II that war was not a sufficient excuse to treat combatants, and civilians for that matter, in any manner we pleased. The war on terror is not a justification for abusing prisoners. Weather or not others elsewhere have been treated worse in the past, e.g. in a prison in California, or subjected themselves to worse e.g. in a crack house, is irrelevant. Notice no one has said that Gitmo doesn’t violate the Geneva Convention, only that it doesn’t apply to these individuals. Regardless of their gilt or innocence, these men deserve better, and we as a country should be ashamed for letting this pass.

  • Good argument. But assuming we want to give these guys the protection of the Geneva rules (and the administration has repeatedly said so in the last few days), we will still need to debate what section C means. And, if it means what was described by the FBI agent, there are all kinds of processes to deal with it. That is the American distinction not available in the regimes pointed to.

  • My point is that before we crucify Durbin, let’s consider what he’s saying. If you think it’s an unfair comparison, that’s fine. That’s an opinion. But I have a problem with the “conservative media” taking Durbin’s comments as being:

    a) About all U.S. troops
    b) Being anti-troops

    Some conservatives are trying to take Durbin’s statement and make it into a rallying cry for Michael Savage’s “liberalism is a mental disease” belief. That’s nonsense.

    Consider what Craig Crwaford said on the June 17 Imus in the Morning:

    CRAWFORD: This is democracy. We debate these things…I just get irritated with the idea that when somebody complains about the policies, it’s immediately connected to, that they’re complaining about the troops and that they’re demeaning the troops. I just don’t think it goes that way.

  • I actually agree with you (and think Savage is an idiot.) It isn’t a put down of the troops, it is an attempt to gain attention for an anti-war, get out of Iraq message. And as such, using that method is wrong. Just say. “I don’t think we should be there. Lets get out soon. Let’s beware of treating prisoners badly. Otherwise Durbin becomes Savage.