Wednesday, June 22, 2005
He's Still an Ass, But He Did Apologize....
From the Chicago Tribune...
Durbin yields to onslaught, apologizes in full
By Jill Zuckman and Gary Washburn, Tribune staff reporters. Jill Zuckman reported from Washington and Gary Washburn from ChicagoPublished June 22, 2005
WASHINGTON -- His voice choking, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois took to the Senate floor Tuesday and explicitly offered "heartfelt apologies" for comparing America's treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center to the atrocities of the Nazis, Soviets and other murderous regimes.The apology came after a week of drumbeat criticism against Durbin, the assistant Democratic leader, from the White House, from Republican senators, from conservative activists and, finally, from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, a fellow Democrat.And Durbin's own halting efforts at contrition had seemed to only stoke more criticism until his mea culpa Tuesday."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," Durbin said as his voice trembled. "Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy. I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military."Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, also took to the floor, accepting Durbin's offering."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. "I know that I have. ... I would like to say to the senator from Illinois, he did the right thing, the courageous thing and I believe we can put this issue behind us."Earlier in the day, however, Daley came down hard on his friend."I think it is a disgrace," the mayor declared when asked about Durbin's comments last week. "He is a good friend of mine, but I think it is a disgrace to say that any man or woman in the military acts like that."Daley's son, Patrick, recently enlisted in the U.S. Army and now is in training."I believe our men and women in the military have a lot of common sense and passion and heart," the mayor said.`So disrespectful'"Read the history of the Holocaust," Daley said. "Nothing can compare with the Holocaust. . . . It is so disrespectful for all the victims of the Holocaust. You are talking about 6 million people intentionally killed. . . ."How many did [Stalin] kill?" Daley asked rhetorically. "Twenty-two million. Then you take what took place in Cambodia, and we are trying to [compare] incidents in Guantanamo Bay, where nobody has been killed, no one has been seriously injured, to that?"The controversy began June 14 with a lengthy floor speech by Durbin criticizing the Bush administration's policy on the U.S. prison at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba. Durbin read aloud from an FBI agent's e-mail describing the treatment of prisoners."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.The next day, Republican senators, including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, scalded Durbin with criticism. Durbin, however, initially refused to back down, arguing on the floor with Sens. John Warner (R-Va.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) about the propriety of how the U.S. treats its prisoners.By Friday, however, Durbin sought to quell the fury, issuing a statement of regret in which he tried to clarify his remarks but insisted he would continue to denounce the administration when he believed it was wrong. That prompted additional criticism over the weekend from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.By Tuesday, Durbin said he had come to understand that his comparison of the interrogations at Guantanamo to the tactics of murderous regimes "was a very poor choice of words."Interrupting a Senate debate on energy legislation, Durbin announced that a senator lives by his words. "Words are the coin of the realm in our profession," he said. "Occasionally words will fail us, and occasionally we will fail words."Durbin said he was especially pained to think that he had let down the soldiers he had visited in Iraq a few months ago.
`They are the best'"When you look at the eyes of the soldiers, you see your son and daughter. They are the best," he said. "I never, ever intended any disrespect for them. Some may believe that my remarks crossed a line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies."This was not the first time a senator has had to issue multiple explanations and apologies to tamp down angry denunciations. In 2002, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) enthusiastically praised Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) at his 100th birthday party, citing his 1948 candidacy for president as a segregationist."I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him," Lott said. "We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."Lott spent weeks trying to explain what he meant and trying to apologize before his Republican colleagues forced him from his leadership post.Durbin is unlikely to face a similar consequence. His remarks were immediately greeted by McCain and a handful of Democrats on the floor.`Let this be the end'"It takes a big person to apologize to the Senate," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). "He has done it. I appeal to everyone to move on. Let this be the end of this."Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she was taken by the emotion behind Durbin's remarks."We know Dick Durbin. We know he is patriotic. We know he cares about the men and women serving and we know he would do nothing, nothing, to ever mean anything to the contrary," said Feinstein, adding, "Let this be the end of it."In a statement, Frist appeared to signal that the end had, in fact, arrived."Sen. Durbin's apology was a necessary and appropriate step in repairing the harm his earlier remarks have had on the image of the millions of fine men and women serving in America's military," Frist said. "As members of Congress we must always be sensitive to the fact that it is their struggles and sacrifices that keep us safe in the war on terror."