- This man is simply a piece of excrement, a piece of waste that needs to be scraped off the sidewalk and eliminated.
-- KVI's John Carlson, discussing Sen. Dick Durbin, on his Seattle-based talk show Thursday
The right is in full froth over Sen. Dick Durbin's remarks comparing the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the way other regimes -- including the Nazis, the Soviets, Pol Pot, and other dictators -- treated their prisoners.
The frenzy is reaching ugly proportions very rapidly. And don't think for a minute that they'll stop with Durbin.
Spin and distortion are, as always, playing a critical role in the brouhaha. The key is that conservatives are deliberately misrepresenting what Durbin said, and twisting his words into a campaign to paint liberals as treasonous vermin worthy of extermination.
Here are those words:
- 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, 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.
It's quite clear, especially in full context, what Durbin was saying: That torturers who violate basic human rights and standards of decency are the antithesis of everything this country, at its best, is supposed to stand for; it is the domain of history's most horrid monsters.
But that's not how the right is describing it. According to them, Durbin was claiming that all our soldiers are Nazis. Perhaps typical of this was the nakedly false Washington Times headline, "Gitmo called death camp."
The leading torchbearer in this particular twilight parade is, unsurprisingly, Rush Limbaugh, who on his show today ran a snippet of Durbin's remarks -- omitting the first two sentences of the FBI agent's remarks, a patently dishonest edit that masked the clear abuse of the prisoner described therein. He also sneered at Durbin's fairly clear defense of his remarks by insisting that Durbin had compared Gitmo to death camps.
But more important was his larger thrust:
- Dick Durbin has just identified who the Democrats are in the year 2005, particularly when it comes to American national security and when it comes to the US military. These are the same people they say they support the troops. This is how they do it, huh? They give aid and comfort to the enemy. They make it possible for Mullah Omar and bin Laden, whoever else is out there still alive, to laugh themselves silly at us. Mogadishu all over. Remember what bin Laden said after we cut and run out of Mogadishu? "That's when I knew the US was a paper tiger, that's when I knew they didn't have the guts, that's when I knew they couldn't take casualties," and that's what fueled his planning for 9/11. He has said so. So, bammo! Here you go, Dick Durbin. Thanks once again for telling our enemies just what a bunch of soft patty cakes we are and how we'll back away from our own treatment of people much less back away from dishing it out to people like our enemies.
Ah yes, the long-festering "treasonous Democrats" meme, which has been bubbling along steadily ever since Sept. 11.
Of course, the rest of the conservative chorus, particularly in the blogosphere, immediately chimed in. These ranged from Michelle Malkin, who called the remarks "treachery," to PowerLine's Paul Mirengoff calls it a "big lie" that "slanders his own country. Normally that kind of slander is uttered only by revolutionaries seeking the violent overthrow of the government. Yet Durbin purports to be part of a loyal opposition."
And, of course, it was all over talk radio too. Following the Oxycon Artist's lead, it was the leading topic on nearly every right-wing show I tuned in to today. Michael Savage, as always, was particularly vicious.
But I was a little stunned to hear nearly the same kind of talk emanating from none other than KVI's John Carlson, who certainly has shown no compunction in embracing the right-wing talking point du jour in the past, but has always maintained at least a facade of civility and rationality. He was, after all, the GOP nominee for governor in Washington state in 2000 (he lost handily). I've been on John's show, some years ago, and thought he was a model of thoughtful conservatism.
Today, he took all of the conservative talking points that had been bubbling up through folks like Limbaugh and Malkin and Powerline -- liberals hate the military, liberals hate America, they'd love to see us lose just to spite Bush, they're worthless scum -- and boiled them down into a few moments of unadulterated eliminationism. He described Durbin not merely as vermin or disease (a typical eliminationist mode) but as outright waste -- to be, explicitly, eliminated.
Taken in combination with Limbaugh's insistence that Durbin was perfectly representative of mainstream liberalism, the inference from Carlson's assertion becomes even more disturbing: Are liberals mere excrement too, fit only for scraping from the walkways?
You could tell that Carlson was teeing off of the points raised by others, particularly Limbaugh, by repeating Limbaugh's claim that the push to shut down Gitmo originated with the since-discredited Newsweek story about Koran abuse there. Here's how Limbaugh described it (and Carlson nearly perfectly reiterated):
- Look at what one erroneous story from Newsweek has led us to. One error in Newsweek about what they were supposedly doing to the Koran is what's led us to this, close down G'itmo.
Limbaugh proceeded to engage in a bit of projection: "This is precisely how the left-wing propaganda mill works."
This characterization of the Gitmo stories and concern about what's been occurring there is similar to the right-wing tactic with the story surrounding Bush's military records: Create a media "scandal" over an apparent journalistic failure that kills the underlying story, and thereafter treat any discussion of that underlying story as having been dismissed along with the "scandal."
In reality, of course, much of the discussion about Gitmo was fueled by a number of other reports, most famously the Amnesty International report that compared Guantanamo to the Soviet gulag.
The concerns about American interrogation practices have been on the front burner for many human-rights groups since even before the revelations of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, including reports that arose immediately after the invasion of Afghanistan. As I remarked when Abu Ghraib became public knowledge, there is considerable evidence that the problems are systemic and may indeed originate at the highest echelons of the Bush administration.
Back when the Afghanistan deaths were reported, I ran a letter from Joan Kirkpatrick, the renowned (and, sadly, late) international-law expert who was early in the forefront in decrying the Bush administration's interrogation practices. It contained, I think, the definitive response to all those, like Limbaugh, who dismiss torture as mere fraternity pranks or a matter of mere discomfort for the prisoners:
- These practices also violate human rights treaties to which the United States is a party, specifically the prohibitions on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The United States may not transfer Al Qaeda suspects to other states to facilitate their torture; that too is a violation. Moreover, there is no state on earth "that does not have legal restrictions against torture" ("Questioning of Accused Expected to Be Human, Legal and Aggressive", March 4, 2003, A13). The prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm of customary international law binding on all nations. The torturer is the enemy of all mankind.
Dick Durbin was right. The practices at Gitmo, as well as everywhere else in the American "war on terror" detention system, as Amnesty International is insisting, need to be shut down and investigated, precisely because the torture techniques that Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin are so quick to defend are practiced only by inhuman monsters: Nazis, Stalinists, tinpot dictators. In defending them, they only reveal their own inhumanity, and the depths to which they have fallen.
They constantly refer to the events of Sept. 11, or the horrors of Saddam Hussein's regime, as justification. But the comparative standard for our behavior is not Saddam. Monstrous acts do not justify further monstrousness. And it is no victory for America if, along the way, we lose our soul -- as does any person, let alone nation, who condones torture.
This is why their attacks on Durbin are so vicious. They are so intent on taking America with them over the cliff and into this moral abyss that they will destroy anyone who dares remind them of their own moral vacuousness. Not only do they intend to silence dissenters, they intend to eliminate them. John Carlson, in the end, was only giving final voice to the entire thrust of the "Durbin scandal."