Letters

Spring 2005
Justifying Torture?

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald manages to admit that water-boarding is torture, but the rest of “How to Interrogate Terrorists” [Winter 2005] is an extended apologia for prisoner abuse. Mac Donald neglects to mention the accounts of beatings and other abuses during interrogation recently uncovered in Iraq in the widening scandal there; or the FBI accounts of torture at Guantánamo—pris-oners chained for a day, covered in their own waste. Perhaps we should not expect her to illuminate such practices, but to excuse them—praising them with faint damns, as it were. Mac Donald is disdainful of the “self-professed guardians of human rights”—the ACLU, the Red Cross, and Amnesty International. These organizations are often attacked by people who prefer their torture discreet. Perhaps Mac Donald should think about the company she keeps when she insults their work.

Scott MacEachern
Via e-mail

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald reaches conclusions similar to those in Roger Trinquier’s Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency. Trinquier concluded that the current paradigm of holding citizens accountable to their nation’s laws and soldiers accountable to the Geneva conventions does not allow nations to address adequately the nature of terrorists, their capture, and their subsequent exploitation for time-sensitive information. Fortunately, Mac Donald does not follow Trinquier’s slippery slope of justifying torture—where unsupervised interrogators “must force [the terrorist’s] secret from him”—but rather suggests that there is some ground between the Geneva conventions, protection of fundamental human rights, and Trinquier’s position. Reasonable people will disagree on a topic as difficult as this one; I hope future discussion will include the points Heather Mac Donald raises.

Chuck Hensley
Via e-mail

To the editor:
I must congratulate Heather Mac Donald. As an army interrogator who worked at Gitmo, I know what went on there—and she got it exactly right. I hand out her article to all the people who ask me about what it was like to live and work there.

Finally, a journalist who gets it.

SSG Lara Scarpato
Fayetteville, NC

To the editor:
Heather Mac Donald’s conclusion seems to be that it’s okay to be Nazis if we’re fighting Nazis. If America can no longer claim the moral high ground—surrendered in the past 50 years by a series of administrations driven by realpolitik—then we are no better than Nazis, and we should stop hypocritically claiming that America is a force for good and own up to our lack of moral legitimacy.

Via e-mail
Name withheld

Heather Mac Donald responds:
U.S. soldiers have abused prisoners in the war on terror, as my article makes absolutely clear, but the incidence of such abuse has been low. As of September 2004, the Pentagon had substantiated 70 cases of abuse in Afghanistan, Cuba, and Iraq—about .01 percent of all detainees. Of those cases, only 20 were in any way associated with interrogation—or .04 percent of all detainees. The most common form of abuse was physical assault; the second most common, threats. I don’t know what the “recently uncovered” accounts are of beatings in Iraq to which Mr. MacEachern refers, but all such beatings in Iraq and elsewhere were clear violations of interrogation rules and had nothing to do with interrogation policy. They resulted, rather, from the inexcusable breakdown of military discipline during the insurgency.

The FBI regards any form of stress interrogation—such as marathon interrogation sessions that keep a prisoner up past his bedtime—as abuse. Tensions and bad blood between FBI agents and military intelligence at Guantánamo were, for that reason, high. One memo from a disgruntled FBI agent at Guantánamo referred to such stress techniques as “torture”; but calling them torture does not make them so. If the FBI memo alleging that a prisoner had been kept in shackles for 24 hours proves accurate, such treatment might well constitute abuse—if there were no security reasons for it. But high-security prisons in the U.S. shackle violent prisoners. And Guantánamo detainees are hardly lambs: they create weapons out of every possible object and regularly try to assault guards. Shackling in this particular case may have been gratuitous and culpable cruelty; it may also have been a lawful security measure.

I will lose my disdain for the ACLU and Amnesty International when they start telling the truth about the war on terror. The Red Cross has exercised a double standard over the last four decades regarding prisoner abuse (essentially ignoring American POWs in Vietnam, for example); but the failure of Abu Ghraib prison officials to heed its warnings was a clear mistake.

The 6 million innocent victims of Nazi atrocities are tragically not able to answer the question, but if offered the choice between detention at Guantánamo—where 600 suspected terrorists are given Red Cross visits, cutting-edge medical treatment, exercise, three meals a day, copies of the Qu’ran, the opportunity to pray five times a day, Pentagon bureaucrats second-guessing every decision made by guards and intelligence officers so as to ensure humane conditions, and ocean views—on the one hand, and detention at Buchenwald on the other, they would certainly choose the former.

Does Policing Matter?

To the editor:
I write to take issue not with anything written in E. J. McMahon’s “New York Crime Hits a Tipping Point” [Winter 2005] but rather with what is omitted. The Giuliani crackdown led to an exodus of New York criminals—not to prisons, but to other East Coast cities. Having seen the increase in my jurisdiction of offenders who report their place of birth as New York, I now know where Gotham’s criminals have gone. I have sat in meetings where shortsighted administrators conclude that the best response is to drive criminals out of our area, not recognizing that we are experiencing the results of those same policies being previously implemented elsewhere. These efforts probably are best compared to the carnival game “Whack-a Mole.”

A new jurisdiction won’t recognize right away that the “mole” has popped up in its hole, and a lot of damage can be wrought in the interim. More comprehensive efforts to identify and incapacitate career criminals, and to hold accountable those in the criminal justice system who fail to do this, are the only truly effective way to bring about the tipping point, not pushing the weights onto someone else’s scale.

Patrick Cronin
Via e-mail

To the editor:
While I would agree that the changes E. J. McMahon describes are indeed “spectacular,” to attribute them to “improved policing strategies” is laughable. Crime was declining similarly throughout the country during that same period of time, due to the aging of the population—a trend that criminologists predicted years ago. Moreover, there is nothing that the NYPD (or any PD) could have done to effect these types of changes in real time. If the police could do anything about crime rates (which the literature proves highly doubtful), it would take several years—probably a decade or more—even to notice. Let’s give credit where credit is due: the “aging-out” phenomenon. It’s a historical accident really, and you’d better be ready for the “echo boom” to come!

William T. Prince, MS, CPP
Via e-mail

E. J. McMahon responds:
Well, what do you know? Despite all the evidence to the contrary—not to mention the lived experience of millions of New Yorkers, and the testimony of law enforcement professionals like Mr. Cronin—someone out there still thinks that policing can’t affect crime rates. Sure, demographics have some influence on both crime and imprisonment rates, as my piece acknowledged. But anyone who thinks strategies like Compstat don’t matter simply hasn’t been paying attention. Mr. Prince either overlooked or chose to ignore our “Crime Rates” chart, which showed index crimes dropping much more steeply in New York than in the nation as a whole between 1988 and 2003. No other major city did nearly as much to reduce crime rates during this period; indeed, as of 2004, New York was still reducing crime at a significantly greater rate than the national average.

It’s Mr. Prince and his determinist viewpoint that deserve the label “laughable”—as in laughably out-of-date.

Intelligence and Scholarship

To the editor:
Brian C. Anderson’s “On Campus, Conservatives Talk Back” [Winter 2005] succeeds in proving exactly the opposite of what it proposes. A vast right-wing apparatus of foundations, institutes, and wealthy individuals—none of whom have any organic relationship to the university—provides comfort food for the conservative afflicted on campus. “Independent” student newspapers depend totally on funding from organizations that would withdraw their support should the student editor venture a thought at variance with the party line.

Against this array of wealth and power, Anderson describes a few quirky professors. It must be admitted: a plurality of professors lean to the left. That’s a product of both intelligence and scholarship. But the Left consists of a thousand and one different viewpoints, while Mr. Anderson’s Right is a monolithic beast fearful of exposure to a variant argument.

Herbert Greenhut
The Bronx, NY

To the editor:
Thank God for the weakening liberal stranglehold on college campuses, which hopefully will continue.

I’m a sophomore at Louisiana State University, and the campus is like an island of liberalism in Baton Rouge’s conservative sea. Keep in mind: LSU is one of the more conservative universities; but pictures of Noam Chomsky and Karl Marx are still included in the sociology department’s “Hall of Fame.” Anything that loosens this insidious stranglehold can only be for everyone’s good—except, of course, for the Marxist profs and their propaganda.

Keavin Keith
Via e-mail

To the editor:
What a wonderful article. As a parent of three conservative and very cool kids, I wish the best of luck to David Horowitz et al. in their fight against the liberal indoctrination of our young.

J. Bell
Toledo, Ohio

Brian Anderson responds:
Mr. Greenhut’s letter reads like a parody of today’s Left—except it isn’t. Clearly he’s never read any of the conservative student papers that he claims represent a narrow “party line,” since they’re incredibly varied in tone and substance, representing traditionalist, libertarian, neo-conservative, and other rightish views—though perhaps not the “thousand and one different viewpoints” he detects on the Left (let’s see: there’s the victims of colonialism, and the victims of globalization, and the victims of homophobia, and the victims of racism, and the victims of sexism, and . . . ). All student papers receive funding, moreover: sometimes from the schools, sometimes from off-campus groups, often both. I guess it’s only a problem for Mr. Greenhut if right-of-center papers receive outside funding.

The idea that professors lean left because they’re smarter and better scholars is too absurd to respond to—though I’m sure it’s what the Ward Churchills of academe believe, and what they would prefer that we all believe, as well.

In fact, Mr. Greenhut has it exactly backward: it’s the Left that has long been sheltered from “variant argument,” protected by a now-shattered media monopoly and the yet-to-be-broken domination of the nation’s campuses.

My thanks to Mrs. Bell, Mr. Keith, and the many other letter writers who took the time to express their appreciation and interesting reflections.

Ludic Readers

To the editor:
The voices of working-class people that Jonathan Rose cites in “The Classics in the Slums” [Autumn 2004] are extremely touching. The profound experiences of which they speak are of no interest to most academics, I regret to say.

Years ago, I dropped into an academic conference of English professors at UC Santa Barbara, where I was finishing a Ph.D. in English. Katharine Stimpson (a future president of the Modern Languages Association) gave a talk in which she reported hearing rumors of a creature called the “ludic reader,” who read works of “classic literature” for pleasure. She’d never met such people, and was not quite prepared to state positively that they existed. I raised my hand to say that I was such a reader.

People who persist, as I have, in preferring what I can learn from Jane Austen or James Baldwin or Pushkin or Sophocles to whatever Frederic Jameson’s latest emission is—well, we don’t find a warm home in academia.

I gave up being an academic seven years ago. What made it worse for me as an academic was that, as a minority and a woman, I wasn’t supposed to be excited about things like Tristram Shandy (which I still read once a year for pure pleasure and inspiration). All those people so concerned about diversity who got up at meetings to defend unreadable postcolonial novels were utter reactionaries when it came to the class dynamics of academia. If you were a minority, you were supposed to quietly beaver away at the works of Ngugi wa Thiong’o, not embrace the poetry of John Donne. Literary theory defended this position—a sort of sanctimonious, unacknowledged racism.

Kia Penso
Via e-mail

To the editor:
Jonathan Rose’s article reminded me of my uncle, president of a furniture union local, who kept a trunk at the foot of his bed filled with Everyman Classics and E. Haldeman-Julius’s “Little Blue Books”— ultra-cheap editions of the classics designed to fit into a workingman’s pocket. My father, a bricklayer who never went past the sixth grade, could recite huge passages from Shakespeare, including Lear in its entirety. In a West Virginia mining camp, I encountered a black coal miner who lec-tured me about Diderot and Rousseau.

James H. Williams, Ph.D.
Savannah State University

To the editor:
“The Classics in the Slums” is both timely and moving.

Some additional information: the earliest lending library in Scotland was formed by Leadhills leadminers in the eighteenth century. The miners spent 12-hour days in darkness and went home to read the classics.

The Wordsworths visited the town and were astonished to hear the miners’ children quoting Homer. The Leadhills Library is still in existence and is well worth a visit.

Angus Somerville
Via e-mail

Correction

To the editor:
Nicole Gelinas’s “Corporate America’s New Stealth Raiders” [Winter 2005] makes a common mistake: confusing the California School Employees Association (CSEA) and the California State Employees Association (also CSEA). Also, J. J. Jelincic is the current president of the State Employees Association.

Steve Mehlman
Communications Director
California State Employees Association