Sunday, June 26, 2005

What Durbin and the FBI said

Since he has been denounced so harshly for his statement
on Guantanamo, it might be helpful to read what Illinois
Senator Durbin actually said that provoked the outrage.
The full speech can be found here.

The offending passage:

"..When you read some of the graphic descriptions of
what has occurred here-- I almost hesitate to put them
in the record, and yet they have to be added to this
debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw.
And I quote from his report:

"On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to
find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position
to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times
they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been
left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the
air conditioning had been turned down so far and the
temperature was so cold in the room, left there for 18-24
hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning
had been turned down so far and the temperature was
so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was
shaking with cold....On another occasion, the
[air conditioner] had been turned off, making the
temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees.
The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile
of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling
his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion,
not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely
loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been
since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot
in the fetal position on the tile 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.."

In response to this, Chris Wallace of FOX news said:

"But what the FBI memo alleges, and it is an allegation,
is, you know, would be considered a day at the beach
in the Soviet gulag or Nazi ... I mean, what was so
horrific in the memo? And I'm not saying, you know, there
aren't legitimate questions there, is that someone is
chained to a floor and forced to defecate on themselves,
and has loud rock music playing. Excuse me? I mean, you know,
Auschwitz? Bergen Belsen? The Soviet gulag? I think
they would have been very happy to be allowed to defecate
on themselves."

I don't know any former prisoners of the Soviet Gulag or of
Nazi concentration camps, but I do know Vietnamese who were
detained in re-education camps that I think can be fairly
compared to the Gulag system, and the treatment described in
the FBI memo is actually a common form of mistreatment of
prisoners in Vietnam -- the shackling of hands and feet in
confined positions and exposure to temperature extremes.

To me this is torture, in that it involves the infliction
of severe mental and physical pain. The defecating and
urinating on themselves, as well as the pulling out of hair
and shaking from extreme cold, is a byproduct of the
fact that these prisoners in Guantanamo were "chained hand
and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair,
food or water." This kind of mistreatment of prisoners in
the U.S. would be illegal, even against those
who committed the most heinous of crimes.

In reading this memo, Senator Durbin was not claiming that
overall treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo is comparable
to the Nazi concentration camps or the Soviet Gulag. He was
saying that the particular treatment of prisoners
described in the FBI memo is what we would associate with
the treatment of prisoners in these more extreme prison
systems. Maybe he was wrong to compare this kind of torture
to Nazi concentration camps. But on the other hand, I don't
think that the kind of torture described in the FBI memo would
be considered a "day at the beach" by many former prisoners,
including those who survived the Soviet Gulag system.

If someone had read the FBI memo to me, without the reference
to rap music or the FBI, I would probably think the memo was
describing a prison in Vietnam.

It seems that those concerned with the human rights have to walk on pins and needles when criticizing U.S. prison abuses in Guantanamo, Iraq or elsewhere. The Bush administration and its supporters will jump on the slightest hyperbole from those who criticize such injustices, but it is only a diversionary tactic. Their moral outrage goes in only one direction: against those who speak out against the inhumane policies they are carrying out.


Blogger jon said...

While searching for new central air conditioner info for my house I stumbled onto your blog. I totally agree!


7:05 PM  

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