Emergency exception disturbing
Commendably, Professor Philip Heymann ’60 proposes establishing “the world’s best noncoercive interrogation body” [“A Question of Interrogation,” Winter 2010] and stresses that “the United States should always abide by its statutory and treaty obligations.” But, disturbingly, he also favors “an emergency exception that would allow the president to authorize lesser coercive techniques” under some circumstances. That sounds like “torture lite,” which Sister Dianna Ortiz [who was abducted and tortured in Guatemala] calls “an obscenity”; and it apparently rests on the popular but false assumption that coercion elicits accurate, timely information more effectively than time-tested, noncoercive methods do.
The underlying problem seems to be that much of the public, perhaps because of Bush-Cheney propaganda and entertainment like Fox Broadcasting’s “24,” does not appreciate just how counterproductive coercive methods really are. Educating people to the fact that lawful, civilized methods make them safer—and that torture has betrayed our nation’s intelligence gathering along with much else—may be beyond Professor Heymann’s scope, but it is not beyond that of President Obama ’91. Perhaps he will yet use his bully pulpit to show Americans where their true safety lies and, not incidentally, to make it very hard for a future administration that reverts to torture to enjoy the same impunity that the administration personnel who authorized torture after 9/11 enjoy today.
Malcolm Bell ’58
Bell is writing a book, titled “Sisters in the Storm,” about two women who were tortured and a third (Jennifer K. Harbury ’78) whose husband was tortured and murdered in Guatemala.
So far, only the working class held responsible for prisoner abuse
I can only applaud Philip Heymann’s proposal to establish a specialized interrogation unit that would avoid the systematic use of torture—so-called “coercive” interrogation techniques—that was our government’s policy for a number of years. But the logic of his notion that those who designed, justified and ordered this policy should escape any legal accountability for their actions because “it’s very dangerous for members of one administration to prosecute members of a prior administration for something that the supporters of the prior administration believe was proper” escapes me. Such political expediency is flatly inconsistent with the rule of law. So far, the only people who have been held answerable for prisoner abuse have been working-class enlisted military personnel. Our better-educated and highly privileged political class should not escape justice simply because some of their supporters still believe that torture is a good idea.
Thomas N. Ciantra ’87
New York, N.Y.
To avoid bitter partisan division
I read with interest Robert Stolzberg’s letter [Letters, Winter 2010] in which he calls for the prosecution of the Bush administration for “any crimes” they may have committed. He also bemoans our generous treatment of “Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and their cohorts” who he seems to feel would be well served breaking rocks in some federal penitentiary. While he’s at it, he takes a crack at their “ideological offspring like … Cheney, Rumsfeld and Yoo.”
Mr. Stolzberg’s rancor appears to be directed exclusively at Republican administrations, but in his call for impartiality he overlooks the Truman administration’s atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire bombing of other Japanese cities directed by General Curtis LeMay, all of which resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.
No, I would not have wanted President Truman or any of his Cabinet criminally prosecuted. There was a war on then, even as there is now, but I would remind Mr. Stolzberg that however harsh the interrogation methods of the Bush administration, nobody was killed and arguably valuable intelligence information may have been gained.
President Obama is understandably reluctant to encourage such prosecutions. This is probably due in part to his innate sense of fair play. But he must also be all too aware that such proceedings would bitterly divide the country along strictly partisan lines. Surely, he does not wish his administration to have such a legacy.
Alfred G. Boylan ’42
The format, design, layout of the new (to me) Bulletin are excellent. Congratulations to Ronn Campisi.
Sydney Michael Rogers ’52