Sen. Richard J. Durbin expressed a conditional “regret” yesterday for his remarks linking Guantanano Bay interrogations to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot after Vice President Dick Cheney and the American Legion unleashed another day of rebukes of the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat.
Mr. Durbin had refused to apologize for his Nazi speech in a Senate debate Thursday. But as the high-ranking Democrat and his party continued to feel a political backlash, Mr. Durbin issued his third — and most contrite — statement yesterday.
“I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood,” said the Illinois senator. “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.”
Hours earlier, Mr. Cheney kept up the pressure on Mr. Durbin, and the nation’s largest veterans groups called on the senator to apologize.
“Senator. Durbin’s remarks could very well make him the ‘Hanoi Jane’ of this conflict,” said American Legion National Commander Thomas P. Cadmus. His reference was to actress Jane Fonda, who visited North Vietnam during the war and posed for photographs in an anti-aircraft battery.
“I am totally outraged by his hideous slight of those he should be honoring for their selfless devotion to this nation,” said Mr. Cadmus, who leads the 2.7-million-member, nonpartisan group.
Mr. Cheney said on a Nashville radio station that “for him to make those comparisons was one of the most egregious things I’d ever heard on the floor of the United States Senate.”
The vice president told the “Steve Gill Mornings” radio show that the 520 detainees at Guantanamo are “very violent and evil people … They’re out to kill Americans and if you put them back on the street that’s exactly what they’ll do. All the hand-wringing that we’ve heard from Durbin and others strikes me as totally inappropriate.”
Congressional Democrats have been mostly quiet on the issue, declining to defend or condemn one of their leaders. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, took to the Senate floor Thursday to talk of his long friendship with Mr. Durbin and to criticize the “noise machine of the far right.” He did not specifically address his deputy’s Nazi speech.
Asked by Mr. Gill why Democrats are largely silent, Mr. Cheney said, “I think they’re swallowing hard.”
Mr. Durbin, in the process of being rebuked by Senate Armed Services Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, for “insulting” American troops, appeared on the Senate floor Thursday. Rather than apologize, he reread his Nazi-Soviet gulag-Pol Pot remarks and explained that he was only referring to interrogation techniques described in a letter by an FBI agent. He blamed the flap on the “right-wing media.”
His hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, also chastised Mr. Durbin in an editorial in yesterday’s editions for his Nazi analogy.
“To suggest I’m criticizing American servicemen, I am not,” Mr. Durbin said. “But the FBI agent made this report … I was attributing this form of interrogations to repressive regimes.”
In his statement yesterday, he said, “More than 1,700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and our country’s standing in the world community has been badly damaged by the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. My statement in the Senate was critical of the policies of this administration which add to the risk our soldiers face.”
Tuesday night, Mr. Durbin, after reading the FBI agents letter, said on the Senate floor, “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. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.”