Susan Albright is the editor of the editorial page at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. When one of our readers wrote the publisher of the paper to protest the paper’s disgraceful editorial seconding of Dick Durbin’s condemnation of the American detention operation at Guanatanamo, the publisher forwarded the message to Albright for response. Ladies and gentlemen, courtesy of our reader, here are the deep thoughts of Susan Albright:
As the editor of the editorial pages, which produced the editorial “Durbin’s message,” I am responding to your recent email to our publisher, J. Keith Moyer.
We appreciate your taking time to write. We know that our view is one of many, and that others will disagree. We’ve published some of those responses. The reason we wrote the June 21 editorial and the reason we titled it “Durbin’s message,” and printed excerpts from his speech was that we felt that a few words in a long speech had been taken out of context.
We thought that the senator’s main concern merited attention: Should the United States live up to its treaty obligations to treat prisoners humanely?
He spoke of Colin Powell’s advice, which was not taken, to follow the Geneva Conventions in dealing with prisoners taken in Afghanistan and Iraq. He then quoted from what an FBI agent had personally seen at Guantanamo.
I do think most people in the world who read the description would think it was, as Durbin said, treatment that is not usually associated with the United States but with some other kind of government. The public discussion focused only on whether Durbin appropriately described what kind of government would come to mind if someone heard the FBI agent’s description of prisoner treatment.
Our thought was: What about the treatment itself? Is in in keeping with U.S. values, and will it protect Americans from terrorism? It seemed to us that people on the defensive on this issue had changed the subject by focusing on Durbin instead.
I personally don’t see the prisoner abuse as a liberal vs. conservative type of issue. Credible investigations have uncovered abuse of detainees in U.S. control. The accounts have been based not only on the word of detainees, but of prison guards, translators, FBI agents and others. In some cases, military charges have been brought in connection with such treatment (which resulted in some cases in death).
We share Powell’s concern which is also shared by many career military officers that abiding by the Geneva Conventions is not only the moral thing to do; it serves to protect any future Americans captured by other nations.
Likewise, flouting the conventions puts future U.S. captives in peril. We also are concerned that any mistreatment of prisoners by the United States will only make Americans less safe in that it could help today’s terrorists recruit still more terrorists.
We also wanted our readers to see Durbin’s summation, which said, in part: “I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course. The president could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism. … The administration could give all detainees a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decisionmaker. Such a change of course would dramatically improve our image and it would make us safer. I hope this administration will choose that course.”
We agreed with that statement; we understand that some will disagree. To that point, we have printed critical letters and a longer form Editorial Counterpoint by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn.
I hope that this letter at least gives you a better sense of our thinking on this. We certainly hope you will continue to read the Star Tribune.
Editor of the Editorial Pages
425 Portland Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55488
One would think that the editorial guru of a major American newspaper might trouble herself in this context to establish the veracity of the premise of her argument — that the American treatment of enemy combatants at Guantanamo violates the Geneva Conventions. Students of logical argument are familiar with the fallacy of assuming the conclusion to be proved. It is referred to as begging the question. At the Star Tribune, however, the beguiling repetition of an ignorant refrain apparently produces a soothing effect that obscures basic fallacies.
When the American military are likened to Nazi and Communist butchers, the important thing is to retreat to Dick Durbin’s other talking points — even when Durbin’s imputation of atrocity is put to use by our enemies. Over at the Star Tribune, it’s not only logic that is in short supply. It is also a reasonable set of priorities that does not put scoring cheap political points at the very top of the list.
As for the underlying facts regarding the detention operation, see Gordon Cucullu’s “What I saw at Gitmo” at Democracy Project.