Springfield State Journal Register

June 22, 2005

Durbin apologizes
Senator sorry about his remarks on Guantanamo


WASHINGTON - Facing mounting criticism, including from some fellow Democrats, Sen. Dick Durbin made an emotional apology on the Senate floor Tuesday for citing Nazis, Soviet gulags and Pol Pot in discussing U.S. interrogation methods at Guantanamo Bay.

"Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies," said the Illinois lawmaker, who is the Senate's second-highest Democrat.

Durbin's voice cracked with emotion as he apologized to U.S. soldiers.

"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," said Durbin, who paused and took a deep breath in an apparent attempt to regain his composure.

He also apologized to those who thought he had trivialized what the Nazis and other murderous regimes did.

"I have now come to understand that was a very poor choice of words," Durbin said.

"... I am 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," he said.

On June 14, Durbin read in the Senate an FBI agent's report describing the treatment of prisoners at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba, including that they had been chained to the floor in the fetal position in extreme temperatures without food or water, had been left to urinate or defecate on themselves and had been bombarded with loud music.

"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 then.

Fueled at first by conservative radio talk show hosts and Web sites, the controversy over Durbin's remarks grew, but he at first refused to apologize.

The White House, the Pentagon and congressional Republicans criticized his remarks. The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Anti-Defamation League called for him to apologize.

On Friday, Durbin tried to clarify his remarks, saying "I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect."

On Tuesday, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a Democrat, joined Durbin's critics.

"I think it's a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military would act like that," Daley was quoted by The Associated Press.

After Durbin's apology Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, commended him publicly.

"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. ..." McCain said. "I would like to say to the senator from Illinois, you did the right thing, the courageous thing, and I believe we can put this issue behind us."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and several other Democrats, including Barack Obama of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, also spoke on the Senate floor in support of Durbin.

"We know Dick Durbin, and we know that he's patriotic. We know that he cares about the men and women serving, and we know that he would do nothing, nothing, to ever mean anything to the contrary," said Feinstein, adding that she hopes those who heard his remarks "recognize his sincerity and his depth of concern. Let this be the end of it."

Obama said, "We have a tendency to demonize and jump on and make mockery of each other across the aisle, and that is particularly pronounced when we make mistakes. Each and every one of us is going to make a mistake once in a while ... and what we hope is that our track record of service, the scope of how we've operated and interacted with people, will override whatever particular mistake we make."

The apology seemed to satisfy at least some of the critics.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., called it "a necessary and appropriate step in repairing the harm his earlier remarks have had on the image of the millions of fine men and women serving in America's military."

Adam Schupack, associate director for the Anti-Defamation League for the upper Midwest region, was satisfied with Durbin's apology.

"We welcome that statement, and we welcome Senator Durbin's recognition that comparing the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo with Nazi crimes is just not a valid comparison," Schupack said.

Paul Krawzak of Copley News Service contributed to this report.