Jonah Goldberg

You know, Dick Durbin is right, sort of.

As you've no doubt heard, in a speech on the Senate floor (which was no doubt better in the original French), the senior senator from Illinois compared American behavior at Guantanamo Bay to the killing fields of Pol Pot, the Nazi concentration camps, and the Soviet Gulag.

He read a list of as yet unconfirmed (but probably true) allegations of abuse, which included blasting detainees with rap music and chaining them to the floor to stew in their own filth. "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."

Now, I don't mean this as a defense of Durbin, who is without a doubt one of the most unimpressive - or should I say most impressive? - hacks in American politics. But he's largely right.

No, not because the comparison is in any way valid on the merits. The Nazis, Soviets and Cambodian Communists murdered millions of entirely innocent men, women and children. The Nazis performed medical experiments on children and gassed whole families. Under Pol Pot, merely showing grief for a murdered husband, wife, parent or child was punishable by summary execution. And the Soviet gulag earns the top "honor" of having killed the most people, some 15 million to 20 million, most of them having had no clear idea why their own country found it necessary to terrorize and kill them.

Meanwhile, the 500 or so men in Guantanamo may be terrorized, but they know why they are there. They declared a terrorist war against the United States and the West. They openly embrace the slaughter of women and children. They defy all the rules of war set down by man and even their own God. That may not justify some of the alleged abuses committed by Americans, but it justifies a great many things America's critics call abuses but aren't.

And it shouldn't tax the intellects of even the Dick Durbins of the world that, say, plucking a child from the arms of his executed mother and sentencing him to a slow death at a work camp is different from plucking a terrorist from the mountains of Tora Bora and sentencing him to a holding facility where he gets three square meals, a Koran and, during interrogation sessions, a heavy blast of hip-hop and lousy air conditioning.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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