The Search for Safety: NEWSWEEK's Readers Hold Forth on Terrorism, Torture, Drafting Women and a Novelist's Chutzpah

Newsweek, November 19, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Search for Safety: NEWSWEEK's Readers Hold Forth on Terrorism, Torture, Drafting Women and a Novelist's Chutzpah


Your Nov. 5 cover story, "Protecting America: What Must Be Done," was both impressive and instructive. The list of potential terrorist targets is a great tribute to the inventiveness and energy of our nation and our civilization. The vulnera-ble areas on your list are so numerous and widely distributed that they bring to mind a military maxim: "He who defends everything defends nothing." Launching a relentless and energetic offensive against Islamic fundamentalism, the states that support it and the terrorism it breeds will provide a much more effective defense than trying to protect every potential target in North America and Europe.

James H. Fink

Lincoln, Mass.

"Protecting America: What Must be Done" talks about many of our nation's facilities and resources that might be vulnerable to terrorism, including airports, chemical plants, dams, food supplies, stadiums, malls, the Internet, water supplies, mass transit, nuclear power plants and skyscrapers. One word is conspicuously absent: borders. Hasn't history taught us that no nation stands for long without border integrity?

Sterling Greenwood

Aspen, Colo.

I'm very frustrated that NEWSWEEK chose to broadcast a complete list of our vulnerabilities. Once we might have worried primarily about protecting our nuclear plants. Now, thanks to you, we must find a way to protect spent-fuel sites, too. Thanks for letting terrorists know that an attack on our chemical pipelines would be a "piece of cake." Thanks for giving the terrorists a game plan, complete with risk assessment. Times have changed. If it's information that can, in any way, help the terrorists, I don't want to know it.

C. S. Smith

Allen, Texas

Degrees of Coercion In "Time to Think About Torture" (Between the Lines, Nov. 5), Jonathan Alter suggests that the United States consider using torture against suspected terrorists. Alter fails to understand that not only is the use of torture illegal and immoral; it could also place Americans' lives in danger by increasing hostility toward the United States. Moreover, nothing would alienate the international community, whose support the United States desperately needs, more than the abandonment of the most widely agreed-upon human right, the prohibition against torture. The 1984 Convention Against Torture states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture." Few other prohibitions under international law are so absolute. Although banned by Israel's Supreme Court in 1999, the use of torture is not uncommon there. It has not brought the country peace or security, nor will it in the United States. On both moral and practical terms, torture is dead wrong.

William F. Schulz, Executive Director

Amnesty International USA

New York, N.Y.

Jonathan Alter responds: At both the beginning and the end of my column, I wrote that I oppose legalizing physical torture. I also noted that it is contrary to American values and doesn't generally work well. I placed psychological torture in a different moral category. At a minimum, the problem of extracting critical information that could save thousands or even millions of lives should not be off-limits for public discussion.

Bravo to Jonathan Alter for exhibiting both common sense and guts in his column about examining the issue of torture. The United States has become so obsessed with being perceived as a white knight riding on his steed that we've permitted the most basic human need--self-preservation--to get lost in the process.

Ronald Mergenthaler

Middletown, N.Y.

Jonathan Alter makes the assumption that coercion of a terrorist suspect by means of "torture" is considered by most Americans to be a human-rights violation. But can we really consider people human if their whole concept of the value of life is tainted by hate? …

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