Durbin rebuked on floor of Senate
The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman yesterday accused Sen. Richard J. Durbin of insulting American soldiers with a “grievous error in judgment” by comparing U.S. treatment of al Qaeda suspects to the crimes of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot, and demanded that the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat apologize.
The rebuke followed a similar rebuke by the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who called Mr. Durbin “totally out of line.”
Republican lawmakers lined up to condemn the remarks as making the war on terror more dangerous for American troops.
Some were particularly angry about the Al Jazeera Arab-language news station, which had posted Mr. Durbin’s Nazi comparison made in a Tuesday night floor speech.
“That’s horrible. That’s our worst nightmare,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, about the posting by the network, which the administration accuses of stirring up anti-Americanism.
In a Tuesday night speech to the Senate, after reading an e-mail from a FBI agent, Mr. Durbin said: “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 as the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.”
The scolding of Mr. Durbin by Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, set off a tense debate on the Senate floor that lasted more than an hour.
Mr. Warner, joined by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, repeatedly chastised Mr. Durbin for likening interrogation techniques at the Pentagon-run prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to three 20th-century dictators who killed tens of millions of innocents.
A clearly uncomfortable Mr. Durbin refused to apologize.
He blamed the “right-wing media” for the flap, and read his words from Tuesday’s Congressional Record to show its “context.” He said the real issue was Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld permitting rough interrogation techniques in the war on terror.
But clearly Democrats felt the pressure.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, came to the floor to defend his chief deputy and to lash out at press reports and the White House, which earlier in the day called Mr. Durbin’s remarks “reprehensible.”
“The noise machine of the far right never stops and it’s gotten so much more in operation in the last few weeks,” he said. “This is all a distraction by the White House.”
But Mr. Reid did not directly address Mr. Durbin’s gulag comparison. He was followed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who spent more than 10 minutes recognizing Father’s Day.
Then Republican Sens. John Kyl of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama further denounced Mr. Durbin’s comments and echoed the calls for an apology.