Throughout the last campaign season, senior Democrats’ speeches included a standard line, usually delivered with righteous anger, about how “nobody has a right to question my patriotism.” Given that nobody questioned their patriotism, it seemed an odd thing to harp on about.
But, aware of their touchiness on the subject, I hasten to add that in what follows I am not questioning Sen. Dick Durbin’s patriotism, at least not for the first couple of paragraphs. Instead, I’ll begin by questioning his sanity.
Last Tuesday, Mr. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, quoted a report of U.S. “atrocities” at Guantanamo and then added:
“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.”
Er, well, your average low-wattage senator might. But I wouldn’t. The “atrocities” he enumerated — “Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room” — are not characteristic of the Nazis, the Soviets or Pol Pot, and, at the end, the body count in Gitmo was a lot lower. That’s to say, it was zero, which would have been counted a poor day’s work in Auschwitz or Siberia or the killing fields of Cambodia.
But give Mr. Durbin credit. Every third-rate hack on every European newspaper can do the Americans-are-Nazis shtick. Amnesty International has already declared Guantanamo the “gulag of our times.” But I do believe the senator is the first to compare the U.S. armed forces with the blood-drenched thugs of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Way to go, Senator. If you had a dime for every crackpot Web site that takes up your thoughtful historical comparison, you would be able to retire to the Caribbean and spend the rest of your days torturing yourself with hot weather and loud music, as well as inappropriately provocative women and insufficient choice of hors d’oeuvre and all the other shameful atrocities at Guantanamo.
Just for the record, some 15 million to 30 million Soviets died in the gulag; some 6 million Jews died in the Nazi camps; some 2 million Cambodians — one-third of the country’s population — died in the killing fields. Nobody’s died in Gitmo, not even from having Christina Aguilera played to them excessively loudly. The comparison is deranged, and deeply insulting not just to the U.S. military but to the millions of relatives of those dead Russians, Jews and Cambodians, who, unlike Mr. Durbin, know what real atrocities are.
Had Mr. Durbin said, “Why, these atrocities are so terrible you would almost believe it was an account of the activities of my distinguished colleague Robert C. Byrd’s fellow Klansmen,” that would have been a little closer to the ballpark but still way out.
One measure of a civilized society is that words mean something: “Soviet” and “Nazi” and “Pol Pot” cannot equate to Guantanamo unless you’re utterly unmoored from reality.
Spot the odd one out: (1) mass starvation, (2) gas chambers, (3) mountains of skulls, (4) lousy infidel pop music at full volume. One of these is not the same as the others, and Mr. Durbin doesn’t have the excuse of being some airhead celeb or an Ivy League professor. He’s the Senate Judiciary Committee’s second-ranking Democrat. Don’t they have an insanity clause?
Now let us turn to the ranking Democrat, the big cheese on the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Mr. Leahy thinks Gitmo must be closed and argues as follows:
“America was once very rightly viewed as a leader in human rights and the rule of law, but Guantanamo has drained our leadership, our credibility, and the world’s good will for America at alarming rates.”
So, until Guantanamo, America was “viewed as a leader in human rights”? Not in 2004, when Abu Ghraib was the atrocity du jour. Not in 2003, when every humanitarian organization on the planet predicted the deaths of millions of Iraqis from cholera, dysentery and other diseases due to America’s “war for oil.” Not in 2002, when the “human rights” lobby filled the streets of Vancouver and London and Rome and Sydney to protest the Bushitler plans to end the benign reign of good King Saddam. Not the weekend before September 11, 2001, when the human-rights grandees of the U.N. “anti-racism” conference met in South Africa to demand America pay reparations for the Rwandan genocide and to cheer Robert Mugabe to the rooftops for calling on Britain and America to “apologize unreservedly for their crimes against humanity.”
If you close Gitmo tomorrow, the world’s anti-Americans will look around and within 48 hours light on something else for Gulag of theWeek.
And this is where it’s time to question Mr. Durbin’s patriotism. As Mr. Leahy implicitly acknowledges, Guantanamo is about “image” and “perception” — about how others see America. If this one small camp of a few hundred people has “drained the world’s good will,” whose fault is that?
The senator from Illinois’ comparisons are as tired as they’re grotesque. They add nothing useful to the debate. But around the planet folks naturally figure that, if only 100 people out of nearly 300 million get to be senators, the position must be a big deal. Hence, headlines in the Arab world like “U.S. senator stands by Nazi remark.” That’s al Jazeera, where the senator from al-Inois is now a big hero — for slandering his own country, for confirming the lurid propaganda of its enemies. Yes, folks, American soldiers are Nazis and U.S. prison camps are gulags. Don’t take our word for it, Sen. Bigshot says so.
This isn’t a Republican versus Democrat thing; it’s about senior Democrats who are so over-invested in their hatred of a passing administration that they’ve signed on to the nuttiest slurs of the lunatic fringe.
It would be heartening to think Mr. Durbin will himself now be subjected to some serious torture. Not real torture, of course; I don’t mean using Pol Pot techniques and playing the Celine Dion Christmas album really loud to him.
But he should at least be made a little uncomfortable about what he’s done — in a time of war, making an inflammatory libel against his country’s military that has no value whatever except to America’s enemies. Shame on him, and shame on those fellow senators and Democrats who by their refusal to condemn him endorse his slander.
Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.