Tuesday, November 08, 2005

An Open Letter to Senator Dick Durbin

Dear Senator Durbin:
Your remarks on the Senate floor comparing the actions of US soldiers at Guatanamo Bay toward prisoners in their control to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime--Pol Pot or others--that had no concern for human beings” have generated a storm of controversy and a stream of Republican criticism based mostly on patriotic reaction. These remarks also need to be challenged on the facts.

Irene Khan of Amnestry International called Gitmo the “gulag of our times”. Perhaps Ms. Khan and Amnesty, in spending so much time trolling for ways to criticize America, have forgotten about Haengyong, North Korea and Camp 22, the infamous North Korean ‘gulag’. Allow me to recap what the Guardian newspaper in Britain reported in 2004 about Camp 22 – prison guards who stamp on the necks of babies born to prisoners to kill them; entire families being put in glass chambers and gassed; poisoned food used to test lethal toxins on inmates; deliberate experimentation of chemical weapons with no regard for human life. The 50,000 or so unfortunate prisoners at Camp 22 had been critical of Kim Jong-Il. All of this sound familiar? At Auschwitz, Dr. Josef Mengele deliberately experimented with eugenics on Jewish children. Millions were killed in the gas chambers with Cyclon-B. These represent true ‘gulags’ and death camps, not Gitmo.

Lost in the ultimately-discredited hoopla about Korans being flushed down toilets is the fact that the prisoners at Gitmo are actually issued Korans by…you guessed it: the United States. Prisoners’ cells have arrows that point toward Mecca to guide them during their daily namaz. They receive excellent food and medical treatment. So, someone turned off a prisoner’s air-conditioning? Forgetting notions of patriotism, can we honestly compare these actions to the guards in North Korea? Have we made mistakes in Gitmo? Absolutely. Have we the ability to self-examine and correct ourselves: an even more resounding yes, for this is what separates America from the rest of the world. There are definitely legal issues over the ultimate life-span of the camp. But, to vilify the actions of US soldiers there in such a comparison is disingenuous. The ability of America to improve itself is based on responsible and informed debate between parties. However, making such comments for purely political gain not only misuses the rights of speech that guarantee free discourse, it usurps them.

If the Democratic intelligentsia thinks that they can score points from this issue, I think they may have misjudged the public as badly as in 2004. Guantanamo Bay may ultimately be closed. But it is not now, and never will be a ‘gulag’ or death camp that reasonable people will entertain a comparison to those run by Nazis, Soviets, Pol Pot or Kim Jong-Il. Its closure will come when, in a war against enemies who are non-state actors, it will have outlived its usefulness or a better way is found to deal with the unique problem they pose to a nation trying desperately to defend itself under trying circumstances.