The White House on Tuesday rebuffed Democratic calls for creation of an independent commission to investigate treatment of foreign terror suspects at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
And Assistant U.S. Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin yielded to a drumbeat of largely Republican criticism and apologized for comparing U.S. interrogation methods at Guantanamo to those used by the Nazis and other repressive regimes.
“I sincerely regret if what I said causes anybody to misunderstand my true feelings,” Durbin said in the Senate. “Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support.”
On the other side of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, Democrats in the House of Representatives said an independent commission to investigate treatment of detainees was needed because of questions about the integrity of the Pentagon’s probes and to prove to the Muslim world the United States had nothing to hide.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan countered that “the Department of Defense has taken these issues head-on and addressed them.”
“They continue to look into allegations of abuse. People are being held to account, and we think that’s the way to go about this,” McClellan said when asked whether the White House would support creation of an independent commission.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California had earlier on Tuesday described Republican criticism of Durbin as an attempt to divert attention from sinking public support for the Iraq war.
Yet Durbin decided to try to end the controversy, saying, “I offer my apology for those offended by my words.”
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican and among those who had criticized Durbin, thanked the Illinois Democrat for the “heartfelt statement, one of apology.”
“All of us, I believe, who have had the opportunity to serve in public life, from time to time have said things we deeply regret,” said McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam. “I believe we can put this issue behind us.”
House Republican Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, among those who had criticized Durbin, said there was no need for an independent commission to investigate treatment of detainees. “This is strictly politics,” DeLay said.
The military detention camp at Guantanamo has been criticized as a modern “gulag” by Amnesty International and it has become a hated symbol for many Muslims.
Earlier this month, President Bush left the door open to an eventual closing of the prison. Other top officials argued it should remain open.
Bush on Monday defended the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and challenged reporters to go and see for themselves.
Pelosi announced legislation on Tuesday that would create an independent commission to investigate. Advocates said the commission could be modeled after the one created to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Democrats said they had 170 sponsors for the legislation, all House Democrats. Pelosi said she believed enough House Republicans would cross the aisle to pass the measure if the Republican leadership allowed a vote.
“Our national interest demands a thorough independent review of the detention system,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat. “We need answers to basic questions. What happened? Who is responsible? And how do we move forward?”
“The Pentagon’s internal investigations certainly do not meet this standard,” Waxman said. “The resulting reports have contained conflicting conclusions and some have been little more than whitewashes.”
McClellan said the detainees were “treated humanely” at Guantanamo. He called them “dangerous enemy combatants,” sent to Guantanamo because “they are individuals who seek to do harm to the American people.”