The Wrong Apology

The wrong person apologized yesterday.

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) yesterday offered a tearful apology on the Senate floor for comparing the alleged abuse of prisoners by American troops to techniques used by the Nazis, the Soviets and the Khmer Rouge, as he sought to quell a frenzy of Republican-led criticism...Durbin, the Democratic whip, acknowledged that "more than most people, a senator lives by his words" but that "occasionally words will fail us and occasionally we will fail words." Choking up, he said: "Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies."
Durbin was not wrong. Not wrong in what he said. Not wrong in saying it. And the only person who has crossed the line is George W. Bush -- and we've heard no apologies from him.

Let's review. Durbin, quoting from an FBI memo, described how some detainees at Gitmo were chained naked, hand and foot to a concrete floor and left that way for up to 18 hours a day, where they inevitably urinated and defecated on themselves.

Durbin observed, correctly, that if someone read that account not knowing anything more, they would assume the people doing this to prisoners were Nazis or one of the other despicable regimes of history. 

Durbin was immediately flamed by the White House and Republicans in Congress. How dare he compare the behavior of US soldiers to that of Nazis?

Okay, let's give the devil his due. The US does not systematically execute prisoners; at least not as a matter of course. We don't perform medical experiments on them. We don't rape them. That's the kind of stuff the Nazis, Soviets and Pol Pot did. We don't do that stuff — yet.

But let me tell you why Durbin was right to make the comparison. And to make my point I am going to use the same argument conservatives use to justify their war on drugs.

If marijuana is a gateway drug, I ask conservatives, what's chaining a person naked to a cement floor and letting them sit in their own waste all day? A taste of torture? A snort of the abuse? Where do you go from there? A few lines of water-boardering? From there it's a short step to electric shock (after all, they're already wet.)

It's the proverbial slippery slope. And we're on it.
Summary of FBI interview of detainee at Guantanamo Bay 08/23/02, Notes: "when NAME REDACTED was turned over to US authorities, he was beaten by the US military forces. He was taken by helicopter to an unknown location where he was beaten. While his eyes were covered, he was kicked in the stomach and back by several individuals. He noted American English accents. After being moved to an unknown facility in Bagram, his head was placed against the cement floor and his head was kicked. As a result of other beatings... REDACTED received a broken shoulder. During one evening REDACTED was left outside of the facility where he was being held. The ground was wet and it was snowing. He was wearing only pants and a ragged shirt. As a result of being out in the cold, he became unconscious. . . . . When he was moved to Kandahar, he was not beaten as frequently and severely... He was dragged three times to interrogations. On one occasion during prayer time, a soldier placed his foot on REDACTED head and sat on his head. REDACTED stated that the soldiers wore tan and brown camouflage uniforms, with US flags on their arms." (More FBI Memos)
If you think about all this for a moment with the partisan side of your brain turned off, you can see that all Durbin was trying to do was what any responsible parent of a teen would do after finding meth in their daughter's purse. He was trying to warn that we are playing with fire.

But, instead of listening up, his colleagues got all defensive, ganged up and beat the crap out of him. They kept it up until he agreed to say, "it ain't so."

Well it is so, and Durbin should not have caved. But clearly these patients remain in deep denial and are not quite ready to admit they're becoming hooked on the stuff -- far from it. Nightly now we hear Neo-cons and their supporters on talk shows actually justifying the rough treatment of POWs, treatment that just a generation ago would have had American civilians reaching for the air sickness bag.

But suddenly brutal humiliation of POWs in our care has become "necessary."

I don't quite understand why. Torture wasn't necessary 60 years ago when literally all of Western civilization was threatened by German fascism. Torture wasn't necessary during the Cold War, when the former Soviet Union had both the weapons and inclination to fricassee everyone west of Poland.

But today, when a few thousand certifiably crazy radical Muslims go on a murderous rampage, the fate of the nation suddenly hinges on being able to "rough up" (a.k.a. torture) prisoners. I don't get it. (Could it be that torture has replaced good intelligence-gathering?)

When Durbin made his original remarks, he was, in effect, launching an intervention. Anyone who has ever been involved with a drug or alcohol-dependent person knows the signs, and they are all here.

First they lie: "I don't do it."

Confronted with the evidence, the response becomes, "Okay, but I only tried it a couple of times." Then, when caught again, "What's the big deal? Everyone does it."

Then, when it gets personal, they try to seperate what they do from what they are. "It's just a thing I do. It does not define who I am," and "Just because I do it does not make me a bad person."

Finally, this: "Okay, okay. I do it. But I can stop anytime I want."

Maybe what Durbin should have suggested is a 12-step program for the administration's Neo-cons, to slowly wean them off this self-destructive behavior. The trouble is, from the reaction he got to his remarks, it's clear they are ready for the cure -- they just haven’t hit bottom yet.

The trouble is that if we wait until they do hit bottom, they’ll take the rest of us down with them.

What will it take before someone like Durbin can try again? Will it take an indictment form the World Court, seeking extradition of US officials to join the likes of Serbian butcher Molosevic in The Hague? What will it take before we say, basta! Enough! 

It's not like the administration doesn't know what it's doing is wrong, and has since the beginning. Trying to hide evidence of a crime is the strongest evidence that a perp knows the difference between right and wrong. 
Washington, July 2004 -- The federal government's secrecy watchdog has asked the Pentagon to explain why parts of a memo about the interrogation of terror detainees were classified, even though they discussed the political fall-out if the use of certain techniques became public. The memo, declassified and released last month, is the report of a working group on interrogation techniques established in January 2003 by the Defense Department's general counsel. The relevant passage -- marked "secret" ... is part of a discussion of the consequences for criminal and military prosecutions of detainees and others if the public became aware of the use of so-called "coercive interrogation techniques. It reads, "Consideration must be given to the public's reaction to methods of interrogation that may affect the military commission process. The more coercive the method, the greater the likelihood that the method will be met with significant domestic and international resistance."
Maybe the answer can be found in the parents of the men and women now serving in the armed forces. A little parental guidance might be needed to balance the gung-ho propaganda they get from their commanders.

Maybe parents might want to read some of the FBI memos that document how some US troops are treating prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo.  Then, let them visualize their lovely son or daughter chaining another human, naked, to a cold cement floor for a day. Imagine their darling daughter watching, even laughing, as the prisoner soils himself, then sits in it. Visualize their child, the fruit of their loins, the A-student, the Homecoming King or Queen, holding a thrashing prisoner's head underwater, repeatedly; their son, the freckle-faced former neighborhood paperboy, mocking and humiliating a terrified naked prisoner.

Then maybe if those moms and dads wrote to their kids and said:
Dearest Son (Daughter,) We hear and see many disturbing things on the news about how some US troops are mistreating the prisoners in their care.  Please assure us you are not among the soldiers guilty of such un-American, unholy behavior. Because, it would surely break our hearts if you were.

Love, Mom, Dad (& Sparky!)
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