Evans defends Durbin


WASHINGTON - Rep. Lane Evans on Monday defended Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., against criticism over his controversial remarks comparing U.S. treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the actions of Nazis and other murderous regimes.

Durbin's remarks drew harsh criticism last week from Republican senators, conservative groups, veterans groups and the Anti-Defamation League.

Noting that Durbin was working with him to protect the shifting of 1,200 jobs from Rock Island Arsenal under this year's round of base closings, Evans blamed the Bush administration for "putting our nation at risk" by realigning the arsenal and other bases in Illinois "at a time when we are fighting the war on terrorism."

"That is why I condemn the rhetoric of those intent on destroying the character of Dick Durbin, a public servant who has given so much to our military and to our veterans," said Evans, the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee whose district includes the arsenal.

"This attempt by the right wing to shift responsibility and blame from the Bush administration to Sen. Durbin is pathetic and will backfire with the American people."

Evans issued his statement on the day the lawmakers were testifying before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission hearing in St. Louis in an effort to save jobs at the arsenal and the Springfield Air National Guard Base.

On the Senate floor last week, Durbin drew the controversial comparison after reading an FBI agent's report describing how detainees at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba were chained to the floor in extreme temperatures without food or water.

"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.

On Friday, the senator expressed his regret if anyone misunderstood his remarks.

"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, admiration and total support," he said in a statement issued by his office.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is charged with electing more Republicans to the House, called on Evans, a Democrat, to return $5,000 in campaign contributions that he received from Durbin's Prairie Political Action Committee in light of Durbin's remarks.

Evans' spokesman Steve Vetzner said Evans would not return the funds.

Evans described the criticism of Durbin as "just a diversion from the real issues we face and a transparent campaign to score cheap political points and a disservice to every man and woman who has ever served in our military."