Springfield State Journal Register

June 17, 2005

Critics blast Durbin for remarks
White House calls comments 'reprehensible'


By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Two days after Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., likened the U.S. military's conduct at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Nazi prison camps and Joseph Stalin's Gulags, the Pentagon's spokesman Thursday said such comments "reflect a real ignorance" of conditions at the terrorist detention facility.

White House Scott McClellan had an even harsher reaction, calling Durbin's statement on the Senate floor Tuesday "reprehensible."

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita did not refer to Durbin by name. But he addressed the Guantanamo issue unprompted on a day when the Illinois senator's comments were on the front page of one Washington newspaper and were prominently featured in the Pentagon's daily collection of defense-related stories.

"We invite more members to go down to Guantanamo and see what's going on, because what's going on down there is not the way it's being described by certain members of Congress," DiRita said. "And the way they are describing it is unfortunate, and in some cases, I believe those people will regret having made those kinds of comments."

DiRita said the military would facilitate members' visits to Guantanamo, "so that they would have a much better understanding of what's happening down there.

"I think many of them, particularly those who have not been down there, would find that it's quite different from what they think is happening down there. So we would certainly welcome more members going down there and looking at it. ... Comments that are being made up on Capitol Hill about what's happening at Guantanamo reflect a real ignorance of what's really going on down there," DiRita said at a Pentagon briefing.

Durbin press aide Joe Shoemaker said the senator has never visited Guantanamo.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded directly to a question about Durbin's comments and said: "I think the senator's remarks are reprehensible."

"It's a real disservice to our men and women in uniform who adhere to high standards and uphold our values and our laws," McClellan said. "To compare the way our military treats detainees with the Soviet gulags, the Nazi concentration camps, and Pol Pot's (Cambodian) regime is simply reprehensible."

Durbin's statement also came under sharp attack by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which has 2.4 million members, including tens of thousands in Illinois.

"The senator was totally out of line for even thinking such thoughts, and we demand he apologize to every man and woman who has ever worn the uniform of our country, and to their families," said John Furgess, the VFW's commander in chief. "Our soldiers put the needs of others first, just like generations of Americans before them," said Furgess, a Vietnam veteran.

"To link such selflessness to three of world's worst regimes is reprehensible, and I call on every member of Congress and all 900,000 veterans in the state of Illinois to make their displeasure known to Senator Durbin," Furgess said.

Five Republican House members also joined in the criticism, demanding that Durbin apologize for his statement, which they said was insulting to U.S. military personnel.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Tex., said Durbin's statement "is outrageous, disrespectful and anti-American."

In his floor statement, Durbin quoted from an FBI agent's letter criticizing some of the harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects at Guantanamo. Durbin added that those actions could 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 has refused to apologize for his statement.

Shoemaker said the comments were intended to compare "torture" at Guantanamo to torture during the Nazi regime, not to equate Americans at the base to the Nazis and similar groups, the Associated Press reported.