The Bronx, NY

Jonathan Schell, with his usual perspicacity, analyzes the latest disclosures on the games George W. Bush’s lawyers play with the law [“Looking Tough,” Nov. 15]. One point, however, requires comment: Their rewriting of international law is not limited to the Geneva Conventions. As Dean Koh of Yale Law School and Professor Stephen Gillers of NYU pointed out at a program called “Torture: Where Were the Lawyers?” at the City Bar Association, the most shocking aspect of those torture-sanctioning memos from the Justice Department was what they didn’t say. Not a word about the prohibition of torture in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Torture Convention. Nuremberg down the drain. General Pinochet, who justified each of his repressive policies with a presidential decree, could not have done better than the lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice.

Center for Constitutional Rights


Washington, DC

Eric Alterman, in his “When Presidents Lie” [Oct. 25], quotes a 1999 essay I wrote with Abram Shulsky (“Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence”), in which we note that Strauss’s teaching about the history of philosophic esotericism “alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.”

From this, Alterman suggests that we are licensing presidential dissembling. In doing so, he turns the point we were making on its head. As the context makes clear, our complaint is that the intelligence community’s analytic work–resting as it does on the foundations of modern social sciences and American political culture–does not take the possibility of other regimes actively engaging in deception as a normal part of their statecraft seriously enough. Indeed, as the essay notes, it is precisely because Americans believe that our politics can dispense with such behavior that we are not sufficiently aware of it in other nations. Maybe if Alterman worried more about the deceptions of states like North Korea and Iran than the so-called lies of President Bush, he would have caught our point.

Gary Schmitt
, executive director

Project for the New American Century


New York City

I will accept Gary Schmitt’s interpretation of the essay he wrote with Abram Shulsky and offer my apologies. I don’t think we have much to learn about his application of it, however. The genuine threats to the United States from Iran and North Korea have been allowed to fester, owing to the focus of so many self-styled Straussian neoconservatives on Iraq, which–despite the Bush Administration’s deceptions on this point–presented no significant prewar threat to the United States. This abject policy failure has come to dominate nearly every aspect of our foreign policy–in addition to providing a recruitment tool for anti-American terrorists the world over.

Those of us who had the foresight to oppose this misadventure are in a far stronger position to lecture war supporters about the failure to focus on the threats from Iran and North Korea–rather than vice versa. Finally, on the topic of Strauss himself, I recommend Mark Lilla’s recent two-part examination of his work and its influence in The New York Review of Books. It is Lilla’s contention that US neoconservatives have hijacked the work of a great philosopher to suit their own purposes. It wouldn’t be the first time (see my column, “Stop, Thief!” October 16, 2000, at www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20001016&s=alterman).



Los Angeles

As a software professional, I’m terrified by electronic voting, not because the idea is unworkable but because of the way it’s currently done. Patrick O’Neil [“Letters,” Oct. 25] suggests ways to cheat undetectably, but all of them can be detected with proper engineering. If you don’t want sneaky code executing only on election day, build a machine that doesn’t know the date, or test with the clock always set to election day. Even code that deletes itself can be detected using a checksum, a number derived from the code that changes whenever the code changes. This also insures the accuracy of audits. O’Neil’s suggestion of random recounts is certainly a good idea. As for inadvertent bugs, there are techniques (expensive ones) to guarantee the reliability of code. Not widely used, they’re indispensable for writing medical software.

In short, any cheating scheme you propose, I can defeat, but only if the software is made public. It would also require extensive testing and highly trained poll workers. As for today’s proprietary systems, I trust them about as much as I trust George W. Bush.



Madison, Conn.

Dr. Marc Siegel’s “Vaccine Poker” [Nov. 1] is right on target, as he addresses both the causes and the remedy for the shortage of influenza vaccine. A little historical perspective:

Since the first flu vaccines were shown to be effective in the 1940s, no adequate supply of vaccine has ever been produced to meet the needs of the American public, much less those of other nations. Initially, the toxic effects of the early, inadequately purified vaccines prevented their widespread acceptance by patients or their physicians for what was considered a trivial disease. Years of public education and improvements in vaccine purity have led not only to acceptance of but demand for vaccination. However, the rapid evolutionary rate of the virus to elude human immune response requires the continual readjustment and fabrication of new vaccines on almost an annual basis. As a consequence, supply and demand have fluctuated; manufacturers are not eager to entertain the prospect of fluctuating sales, and most have abandoned their efforts.

As Dr. Siegel points out, an adequate and constant supply of vaccine can be achieved only by assured purchase by the government. This was recognized three decades ago by the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee on Influenza, which I chaired. Our report stated, “Steps must be taken immediately to insure an adequate and predictable supply of vaccine. In meeting this goal it is possible that governmental subsidization may be required (italics mine). Thirty years later, we have a public eager to be immunized. Let’s not hang them out to dry.

Emeritus professor of microbiology and immunology,
New York Medical College


Rochester, NY

I hate to sound like some colonial colonel complaining to the Times, but since Eric Alterman [“The Liberal Media,” Nov. 1] mentions the barbarian king Theodoric as if he were Hagar the Horrible, here is some of what the older Oxford Classical Dictionary says about the man: “He received a Roman education and…retained the Roman civil administration in Italy. Himself an Arian, his religious policy was tolerant. He was on friendly terms with the barbarian kingdoms of the West, and confirmed his peaceful policies by a series of matrimonial alliances with the various barbarian royal houses.”

“Welcome, Theodoric the Ostrogoth”? We should be so lucky.