Durbin Issues Tearful Apology

Posted June 21, 2005 at 7:01pm

Ending a week of negative publicity and partisan furor, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) took to the Senate floor Tuesday evening and formally apologized for comparing U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Nazi Germany, Soviet gulags and the Cambodian genocide carried out on the orders of Pol Pot.

“I’m sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing, should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy,” said a choked-up Durbin. “I’m also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military.”

Immediately following Durbin’s short floor speech, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime prisoner of war in Vietnam, praised Durbin for his “heartfelt statement.”

“All of us, I believe, who have had the opportunity to serve in public life from time to time have said things that we deeply regret,” McCain said. “He did the right thing, the courageous thing, and I believe we can put this to rest.”

The remarks in question came from a June 14 floor speech in which Durbin read from a FBI report on alleged abuse suffered by suspected terrorism detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The list of alleged abuses included chaining detainees by their hands and feet in the fetal position on the floor and denying them food and 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 at the time.

In his apology Tuesday, Durbin maintained that, though he used “a very poor choice of words” in his June 14 floor speech, he had raised “legitimate concerns” about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S.-run facilities for prisoners or war and suspected terrorists.

Although Durbin released a statement on Friday saying his comments had been misconstrued, Senate Republican leaders banded together Monday to request that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) repudiate Durbin’s comments. Additionally, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said in a statement Saturday that Durbin should “provide an appropriate apology.”

Additionally, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called for the entire Senate to censure Durbin for his remarks.