Under a mounting crush of criticism from the White House, Republicans in Congress, conservative talk radio, and bloggers galore for comparing alleged abuse by American troops of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the actions of Nazis, Soviets, the Khmer Rouge, and other “mad regimes,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) emotionally apologized yesterday on the Senate floor for making such comparisons.
Durbin said that “more than most people, a senator lives by his words” but that “occasionally words will fail us and occasionally we will fail words … Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.”
He specifically noted the victims of the Holocaust, “the greatest moral tragedy of our time,” and U.S. troops. “I’m also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military. When you look in the eyes of the soldiers you see your son and daughter. They are the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them.”
On June 14 in a speech to the Senate, Durbin quoted an FBI report decribing Guantanamo prisoners chained to their cells in extreme temperatures and deprived of food and water.
Then he said, “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. “Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.”
Durbin at first defended his statement, saying, “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.”
But, by last Friday he issued a statement saying, “I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said causes anybody to misunderstand my true feelings. Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support.”
And yesterday he took his apology to the floor of the Senate, concluding, “In the end, I don’t want anything that I may have said detract from the love for my country, my respect for those who bravely risk their lives each day for our security, and this Senate which I am so honored to serve as a member. I offer my apology for those offended by my words. I promise to speak out on the issues that I think are important to the people of Illinois and to the nation.”
Republicans were receptive. “I think it was the right thing to do and the right thing to say to our men and women in uniform,” said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called Durbin’s apology “an honorable step.”