Thursday, June 23, 2005

The real Durbin story

In keeping with a trend that I noted the other day, the BBC yet again finds another opportunity to remind readers, just in case you have forgotten, that:
Amnesty International has branded the [Guantanamo] camp "the gulag of our times".
The occasion which prompted the reminder was an article about Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s apology for his own hyperbolic rhetoric regarding Guantanamo. Needless to say, the BBC doesn’t even get the full story on that.

The first and most obvious omission is any detail of what Durbin actually said that necessitated the apology. We are told that he is apologizing “for comparing US interrogation practices at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba to those under Hitler and Stalin,” which I suppose is accurate enough, but surely readers deserve to see the actual text of the offending comments, which were:
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.
But more egregiously the BBC portrays this episode as a simple case of poorly chosen words, on the back of which a sincere apology was offered. In fact the situation is much less simple and more politically interesting. Durbin made is comments last Tuesday on the Senate floor, and by Wednesday they had been passed around the internet and replayed over the radio to much objection and outrage. In the face of this groundswell, Durbin dug in his heels and the next day refused to apologize, saying only:
This administration should apologize to the American people for abandoning the Geneva Conventions and authorizing torture techniques that put our troops at risk and make Americans less secure.
By Thursday the pressure on Durbin was growing from enough quarters to force him to address the issue again. (Although not from within his own party, despite the claims of the BBC that “some” of his fellow Democrats had criticized him. Note that the BBC neither names nor quotes these Democratic critics. Other Democratic senators were conspicuously silent on the issue, and indeed Chicago mayor Richard Daley, who finally came out two days ago, is the only Democrat of note whose criticisms I have seen.) But still Durbin stood by his comments, although he did allow that they may have been “misinterpreted”.

Finally, on Friday, probably seeing that this was turning into a political nightmare, Durbin started his climb-down. Still not willing to make an actual apology, Durbin issued this damage control statement:
I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings: Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support.
Unfortunately for Durbin, this was largely seen as the non-apology apology that it was. And the issue had blown up so much now that newspapers, including his home state's own Chicago Tribune, were starting to address the issue in editorials. So, yet again, he felt compelled to issue a statement yesterday, which the BBC has finally picked up. Still, Durbin couldn’t resist shading the apology just a bit, saying (unreported by the BBC):
Some may believe that my remarks crossed a line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies.
Get it? He didn’t really cross the line, but he’s sincerely sorry if you think he did.

Anyway, perhaps if the BBC wasn’t spending so much time trying to work in the Amnesty International “gulag” theme into its stories, it might have more time to cover things with a bit more information and depth.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mark said...

It's becoming increasingly clear that AI issued its "gulag" comment on Gitmo as a publicity stunt, not as an honest assessment of Gitmo conditions. News has come out here that a writer for a publication, who emigrated here from the Soviet Union, was contacted by AI before they issued their statement, asking if he would endorse their "gulag" characterization. When he asked why he should do such a thing, he was told by an AI rep. that such language would bring attention to the conditions at Gitmo. Not that it was an accurate portrayal of what was actually going on. This parallels the comments made by an AI rep. on Fox News Sunday, the week they made their report public, saying that if AI had characterized it in a more, shall we say, reasonable tone "I imagine I wouldn't be here talking to you on this program."

I think we can all tell what AI has been up to. They aren't trying too hard to hide it.

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Guess my previous comment wasn't much of a revelation...since TAE already talked about it. Sorry for making things redundant. I read a lot, but I often forget where I saw something.

2:18 AM  

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