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The Durbin Effect

Hugh Hewitt | The Weekly Standard | Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Durbin Effect

Last week, it was argued here that Senator Richard Durbin ought to be censured for his remarks last week, and not just those in which he made the outrageous comparison between interrogation tactics at Guantanamo and the practices of the Nazi, Soviet, and Khmer Rouge regime. On Tuesday, Durbin took to the Senate floor again, and tried to sound like he was apologizing, though of course he did nothing of the sort, as even a casual consideration of his words will demonstrate. Though the high priest of the media, John McCain, pronounced absolution on the teary Durbin, the reaction among servicemen and women, their families and supporters was not of the forgiving kind. Students of Lincoln also recognized just how carefully Durbin had shopped for his Lincoln quote.

Durbin's still digging, and some other leadership Democrats have decided to join him, including Nancy Pelosi, who on Tuesday made an amazing statement about the military's detention practices, which said in part:

The treatment of detainees is a taint on our country's reputation, especially in the Muslim world, and there are many questions that must be answered. These questions are important because the safety of our country depends on our reputation and how we are viewed, especially in the Muslim world.

There are many questions that have gone unanswered: What was the atmosphere created that permitted detainee abuse, and why was it tolerated? What was the training and supervision of the troops? Who had this responsibility? What is it that the Republicans are trying to hide? How far up the chain of command does this go? Why is the secretary of Defense not taking responsibility? This happened on his watch.

Many of the detainees have been in U.S. custody since October 2001. Why have they been in custody for nearly four years without being charged? Why has so little been done to resolve the status of the detainees?

Our country's standing in the eyes of the world depends on getting to the bottom of the detainee abuse matter, a fact that will ultimately force Republicans to stop placing obstacles in the path of a full and independent inquiry.

Pelosi's declaration lacks the "beyond belief" quality of Durbin's borrowing of Pol Pot to illustrate his point, but both Durbin's and Pelosi's attacks are of the same cloth. They are both peddling a series of accusations that do great damage to America's reputation and the reputation of its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. Durbin's remarks are still echoing through the Al Jazeera search engines, and Pelosi's will soon join them.

Did they have sufficient basis on which to make these damning accusations and issue these serial slanders?

On June 22, 2004, the Department of Defense issued a comprehensive statement on the interrogation techniques authorized and employed by the military in the war on terror. That statement concluded:

It is the policy and practice of the Department of Defense to treat detainees in the War on Terrorism humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Convention.
No procedures approved for use ordered, authorized, permitted, or tolerated torture. Individuals who have abused the trust and confidence placed in them will be held accountable. There are a number of inquiries that are ongoing to look at specific allegations of abuse, and those investigations will run their course.

Does Durbin, Pelosi, or any other ranking Democrat have any proof whatsoever that the Department of Defense lied in this statement, or that any abuse of the guidelines has occurred that has not been investigated and/or punished? If so, they have not produced it. Durbin's FBI memo, which he first used for political theater in the confirmation hearings for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, appears to be his entire file on the issue of "detainee abuse," and for all his concern, Durbin has never set foot on the facility at Guantanamo Bay.

The willingness to slander the servicemen and women responsible for the custody and interrogation of the detainees at Gitmo and around the globe did not begin with Durbin and it will not end with Pelosi. The innuendo of widespread torture that sometimes surfaces boldly. The editors at the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote that "Durbin was spot on in his assessment of Guantanamo. That's why he was so roundly attacked. He told the truth ... The senator should stop apologizing and keep up the criticism of the hellhole America's military has created at Guantanamo. He has no reason to be defensive; he's telling the truth." This is deeply damaging to the security of American troops and devastating to the mission they are pursuing.

Demonizing the American military in order to advance an anti-war agenda is, of course, familiar to those who recall the end of the Vietnam War. Most had believed that September 11 put that playbook on the shelf for good. Wrong. It is in wide use among the left and their spokesmen and women in the leadership of the Democratic party.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of a nationally syndicated radio show, and author most recently of Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That is Changing Your World. His daily blog can be found at HughHewitt.com.

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