Regarding the Jan. 18 article, "In US stand on torture, more trials to come": As a former member of the United States Air Force, I have experienced receiving an order from a superior officer which I believed to be unlawful. I made the decision to refuse to obey based on the instruction I had received in basic training, on my knowledge of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, on excellent supervision throughout my early career, and on my conscience. Fortunately, within hours, my decision was proven to have been the right one and the officer involved apologized.
Sadly, today's troops have not received clear training on the issue of torture. When the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that included language forbidding torture, the White House lobbied successfully to have those words removed. This happened at the same time as the Justice Department went on the record saying that torture is abhorrent.
I've heard many pundits say that responsibility for the torture scandal rests much higher than with the likes of Specialist Graner, and that the investigations shouldn't stop until those at the highest level of government who condoned or ordered mistreatment of prisoners are punished. I agree.
However, it is the people of this great nation who are ultimately responsible. It is our silence in the face of this depravity and inhumanity that convicts us. Each American who cares should contact a member of Congress to demand that a prohibition of torture be made federal law.
If you have a "Support Our Troops" ribbon on the back of your car, get on the phone and support them by demanding that Congress do the right thing.
Daly City, Calif.
The basic premise of Helena Cobban's Jan. 13 column, "Democracy - after the vote" that America and Israel should encourage the development of peaceful democracy in Iraq and Palestine - is one that very few Americans or Israelis would disagree with.
My issue is with Ms. Cobban's assertions of moral equivalence between the Israeli government and Palestinian terrorists, and between the American government and opposition forces in Iraq. Absolutely no distinction is made between those who deliberately murder innocents on a large scale and those who kill them accidentally in the legitimate pursuit of mass murderers.
When Cobban condemns Israel's assassination policy, she neglects to consider that the persons targeted are held responsible for attacks on Israeli citizens. The taking of innocent life is always tragic; but if the Palestinian Authority did its job and arrested those militants, those deaths would not be necessary. When a democratic nation such as Israel is attacked by outsiders bent on its destruction, that nation has a right to defend itself.
Because of his refusal to deal with the Palestinian government as long as there are terrorist attacks against Israel, ("Competing visions of Mideast peace face Abbas, Sharon," Jan. 18) Ariel Sharon allows the terrorists to completely control the situation.
In a way, he ends up encouraging such attacks, because his predictable response literally gives the perpetrators veto power over any attempt to begin a serious conversation with the Palestinians about peace.
If Mr. Sharon had the political courage to begin a dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas despite the acts of violence, we might see progress toward a settlement. Then, any interim loss of life would at least be in the service of a higher purpose, rather than the current "eye for an eye" approach, which serves no purpose.
Santa Monica, Calif.
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