Tuesday, June 21, 2005

SEN. DICK DURBIN has given a complete and abject apology for his speech last week in which he described the horrendous treatment of detainees observed by an FBI agent and told the Senate that if they didn't know where this had happened, they would think it must be a scene out of Nazi Germany or the Soviet gulag or Pol Pot's killing fields.

"Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line," the Illinois Democrat said. "To them I extend my heartfelt apologies."

His voice quaking and tears welling in his eyes, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate also apologized to any soldiers who felt insulted by his remarks.

"They're the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them," he said.

The apology came a week after Durbin, the Senate minority whip, quoted from an FBI agent's report describing detainees at the naval base in a U.S.-controlled portion of Cuba as being chained to the floor without food or water in extreme temperatures.
On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley — a fellow Democrat — added his voice to the chorus of criticism, saying, "I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that."

During his apology, which Durbin delivered while looking directly into a TV camera broadcasting the proceedings, the senator said: "I made reference to Nazis, to Soviets, and other repressive regimes. Mr. President, I've come to understand that's a very poor choice of words."

He also reached out directly to Holocaust survivors, adding: "I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy."

Immediately after the apology, Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), an Arizona Republican and former prisoner of war, spoke in Durbin's defense. "All of us, I believe, who have had the opportunity to serve in public life from time to time have said things that we deeply regret. I know that I have. I would like to say that the senator from Illinois, he did the right thing, the courageous thing, and I believe we can put this issue behind us."

That is about as far from the truth as Earth is from the Andromeda galaxy. It would have taken enormous courage for Durbin to stand his ground and refuse to disavow his moral outrage about acts of torture and violations of human rights that are counter to the most fundamental American values, not to mention against both domestic and international law. It would have taken more courage than he had, clearly. I'm deeply disappointed, but I can't judge him too harshly. I can't even imagine the brass-knuckled work-over Durbin must have been given in the past week. He was beaten into the ground. It seems to me that there is no one, right now at this point in our history, whose moral courage can withstand the force that is brought to bear against any hint that the U.S. military could ever be anything less than the most noble, generous, unselfish, and compassionate force for pure and unalloyed good that the world has ever seen. American soldiers are not like any other country's soldiers in war. They do not become brutalized by war. Atrocities and barbarities and cruelties have been committed in war by any other country or civilization you can name; but America's military is entirely different from any fighting force that has ever existed, or ever will. Strong and courageous in battle, our brave men and women in uniform never, never, never, never, would torture, degrade, humiliate, or abuse prisoners in U.S. custody. The United States does not NEED the Geneva Conventions. Nobility of purpose, intention, and action are emblazoned in the heart of every American who puts on the uniform of the U.S. military. They may be human, but they are not capable of anything less than the most honorable and flawless behavior at all times.

Sen. Durbin's televised apology reminds me of nothing so much as the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union, when high-ranking Party members who questioned the orthodoxy of Stalin as benevolent and noble leader would face charges of anti-Soviet behavior. To avoid arrest and imprisonment, they would have to engage in orgies of self-flagellation in front of their fellow Party members, admitting how wrong and misguided they were.

What public figure will be brave enough going forward to speak up against what their heart and conscience tell them is wrong, when they know they will only be forced to apologize, with a trembling voice and tear-filled eyes, for having dared to question What Must Not Be Questioned?

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