Last week in the Senate, after reading an FBI memo describing prisoner conditions in Guantanamo Bay, Sen. Richard Durbin, one of the highest-ranking leaders in the Senate 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.” The comparison, sadly, is despicable. The Senate should censure Mr. Durbin for his statement.
Let us be clear about the gravity of Mr. Durbin’s words. Nine million human beings were murdered in Hitler’s death camps, nearly 3 million perished in the gulags under Stalin and more than 1.5 million were slaughtered in the killing fields of Cambodia at the hand of Pol Pot. And while not a single terrorist has died in detention at Guantanamo, Mr. Durbin sees fit to liken our American servicemen and women to the terrifying murderers of three evil despotic regimes.
Moreover, Mr. Durbin equates the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo with the millions of innocent men, women and children exterminated by the order of evil dictators. The fact that he did so as a high-ranking member of the Senate on the floor of the Senate makes his comparison all the more shocking.
This moral equivalence isn’t just utterly false; it endangers the lives of our young men and women in the military because it arms every radical Islamist with the official-record words of a Senate leader to justify their war of terror against civilized people everywhere The very men and women who defend our freedom and ironically the freedom of an Illinois senator to smear them, are put at risk from such statements.
So we now know where Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin stands He had two choices, defend or apologize for his statements equating American treatment of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay with the behavior of the worst villains of the 20th century. Last Wednesday, he issued his first statement in an attempt to clarify his words. On Friday, he issued another statement that included the word “regret” but notice what he actually said; “I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings.” Incredibly, Mr. Durbin is sticking to his original assertion that there is indeed, in Mr. Durbin’s own words, an “historic parallel” between U.S. soldiers at Guantanamo Bay and the killers under Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. In other words, his only regret is that we don’t understand his misreading of history and that he has caused us to misunderstand him. Offering no apology for the slanderous statement itself, he has chosen instead to stick to and actually defend his original worsens defense makes his original speech all the more revolting.
But what about the other 99 senators? Where do they stand? Will they stand with Mr. Durbin? Will they allow American soldiers to be defamed by a fellow senator? Will they succumb to collegial courtesy by letting their silence speak for their toleration of a fellow senator’s offense? Or will they defend Americans from this kind of verbal assault by having the courage to censure Durbin?
It is the moral responsibility for every senator to renounce Mr. Durbin’s comparison of U.S. troops to the Gestapo, the KGB and Pol Pot’s killers. Mr. Durbin has left the Senate no choice but to censure him for his defamation of America and endangering young Americans fighting for freedom and against terrorism.
A Senate censure of Mr. Durbin is not only justified, but it is necessary to reaffirm a standard for healthy, rational debate. More importantly, by voting for or against the censure, the rest of the members of the Senate can go on record and make clear how they judge Mr. Durbin’s characterization of American soldiers. It will also send a clear message to terrorists who will use the words of a Senate leader against us that the Senate stands in support of America and our military and against those who seek to destroy the free people of the United States.
While we stand for freedom, including the freedom of speech, the detestable words of one senator does not constitute policy or truth.
It is one thing for one senator to endanger young Americans and defame America; but it would be the shame of the Senate if the other 99 senators did not stand up to defend America and to defend the reputation of our men and women in uniform.
In this case, expressing outrage is not enough It is time for the Senate to act Sen. Durbin must be censured now.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the author of “Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.”