Cambridge, Mass.



Cambridge, Mass.

Alexander Cockburn persists in lying about me. In his October 17 “Beat the Devil” column, “From Lynndie England to Shaquille O’Neal,” Cockburn falsely claims that I have “clamored for torture.” Cockburn knows full well that I “clamored” for just the opposite. As I wrote in my essay “Tortured Reasoning,” which appeared in Sanford Levinson’s book on torture, “I am against torture as a normative matter, and I would like to see its use minimized. I pose the issue as follows. If torture is, in fact, being used and/or would, in fact, be used in an actual ticking bomb terrorist case, would it be normatively better or worse to have such torture regulated by some kind of warrant, with accountability, recordkeeping, standards and limitations?”

What I called for would have prevented precisely the sorts of claims that England made in her defense. Referring directly to Abu Ghraib, I conclude that “if a warrant requirement of some kind had been in place, the low-ranking officers on the ground could not plausibly claim that they had been subtly (or secretly) authorized to do what they did, since the only acceptable form of authorization would be in writing. Nor could the high-ranking officials hide behind plausible deniability, since they would have been required to give the explicit authorization.”

This is surely different from clamoring for torture. Cockburn’s false personal potshots cheapen The Nation‘s discourse and diminish its credibility.



Olympia, Wash.

As regards Dershowitz’s clamors for torture, lying is not necessary. The record suffices. Amid the post-9/11 debate about which bits of the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions to heave overboard, there issued from the Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School the widely publicized message that it’s OK to use torture, so long as the torturers shoving a “sterilized needle” (the prof’s preferred instrument) under their victims’ fingernails have some sort of warrant in their pockets. So, at that fraught moment Dershowitz called for regulated torture, which, contrary to his claims here, sought to make the outrageous normative, subject to rules, procedures, record-keeping and so forth.

Thus poisoning the well with this decorous prattle, Dershowitz was worse, in my view, than those who bellowed coarsely, “They’re barbarians, we have to be too!” That latter idea bothers ordinary people, especially when they imagine their own sons and daughters thus launched into executive barbarism.

In fact, there was a “warrant requirement” of sorts at Abu Ghraib. It’s just that no one could remember what it was. The soldiers who’d been in Guantánamo and Afghanistan could not remember that though they did not have to abide by Geneva Conventions, according to Bush’s February 7, 2002, directive and Gonzales’s legal opinion re prisoners taken in the “global war on terror,” they did have to apply Geneva to Iraqi prisoners. The existence of widespread “confusion” is stated plainly in the Fay Report. Beyond that, Donald Rumsfeld drew up a list of approved interrogation procedures for Gitmo on December 2, 2002. Six weeks later he rescinded those orders, still allowing some of the procedures, which would be considered cruel and degrading treatment–torture–if you were on the receiving end. According to the Army’s own investigations, soldiers aware of the first list (or warrant) were not always aware that it was later rescinded.

When those soldiers went to Iraq they carried their confusion with them. In any event, on September 14, 2003–following a visit to Abu Ghraib by Gen. Geoffrey Miller and a team from Gitmo, there to evaluate the military’s “ability to rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence” and make recommendations for same–Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then head of ground forces in Iraq, signed a policy outlining interrogation techniques that was very close to Rumsfeld’s original list. Some of the techniques required specific approval from Sanchez before use (another version of a warrant), and such requests were either made or they weren’t (because of more confusion), but the existence of those procedures, limitations and record-keeping did not prevent torture. It merely normalized it.

At the time of the Abu-Ghraib pictures there were anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 prisoners there, and other detainees all over Iraq. Abuse has been reported everywhere, most recently in the allegations by Capt. Ian Fishback to Human Rights Watch and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Everywhere there were mortar attacks, chaos, fear, suspicion and soldiers short-handed, ill equipped or bloody-minded, sometimes all of the above. The notion of applying judicious consideration under such conditions re whom and how to torture would be absurd if it were not already immoral and grotesque. Dershowitz’s faith that higher-ups would actually put their names to such orders–rather than making their intentions clear in other ways–would, to plagiarize a Russian of vigorous views, be touching in a child but is repulsive in a person of mature years.



Worcester, Mass.

Brother Foner is on target when he notes that the children of the Lawrence textile mill workers in the strike of 1912 brought such sympathy to the strikers that they gained great public support [“Bread, Roses and the Flood,” Oct. 3]. They were joined in the public mind with the 1911 victims of the Triangle Fire and 1909-10 heroines of the Great Uprising of the 20,000 New York shirtwaist workers, who won a union for garment workers.

Alas, our legendary memory of the Lawrence “Bread and Roses” strike to which Eric Foner refers needs correction. The slogan, in relation to that particular strike, is a constructed memory. James Oppenheimer’s poem “Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes/Hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread and give us roses” has been traced by Jim Zwick to 1911–the year before the strike. No authoritative document or photo has been found with the slogan at that strike.

Yet the slogan is “correct.” Of course the great struggles by working people have been for material decency and for social enfranchisement; and of course Foner is on the right track: The New Orleans flood may open, as did the Lawrence strike, the hearts and minds of a broad public to the issues of social justice. But “Bread and Roses” was not a slogan of the Lawrence strike.

ROBERT J.S. ROSS, author
Slaves to Fashion: Poverty and Abuse in the New Sweatshops



Alyssa Katz’s “The Power of Fusion Politics” [Sept. 12] on the Working Families Party’s strategy is the kind of discussion of tactical questions we love to see. I do, however, have to clarify my reasons for “balking” at fusion for Massachusetts. The isolated quote suggests I think we already have the legislature we want. I was pointing out that our labor-community coalition, the Working Family Agenda (WFA), has won the same kind of significant victories here without fusion that our colleagues at the WFP have won in New York (e.g., a $6.75 minimum wage, a billion-dollar tax increase on the wealthy). And we won them the way the WFP did: with an electoral strategy that leverages the support of right-leaning legislators while electing a growing bloc of progressives. It is both the similarity between us and the WFP and the difference between our states that make me skeptical of the strategy for Massachusetts.

The WFP has shown that a ballot-line strategy can give the left a powerful way to intervene in partisan general elections, which are clearly a large part of even “blue” New York’s politics. Massachusetts, on the other hand, is almost entirely “blue.” With Republicans a tiny minority in both houses, our legislature is virtually a Democratic monopoly in which the party label loses ideological focus. That’s why we count votes here as progressives versus conservatives. And that’s why our electoral strategy is focused on the Democratic primaries, which decide the vast majority of legislative races.

While much of the appeal of a fusion ballot line is about proving that the left is a player in other people’s races, our focus on the primaries allows us to win many elections outright. Since 1998 our coalition has increased the number of progressives in the state House of Representatives by thirty-two seats, eight of them in the past year alone. A ballot campaign for fusion could divert our attention from a winning trajectory in which a separate ballot line has little role.

A fusion strategy also runs the risk of draining Democratic primaries of crucial progressive voters. Last year our progressive challenger, Carl Sciortino, defeated Vinnie Ciampa, an incumbent Democrat who opposed equal marriage and economic justice, by only ninety-three votes. Since WFP registrants are ineligible to vote in Democratic primaries, fusion could cost us our margin of victory in tight races.

The WFP is on a roll in New York and the WFA is on a roll here, because we are both committed to building progressive governing power the best way possible: by organizing a broad coalition with a vision that appeals to working people, an organizing program of year-round voter engagement in winnable issue campaigns and a strong electoral strategy that wins elections.

Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts

Nyack, NY

As a founder and state committeeman of the Working Families Party I appreciate Alyssa Katz’s article, because the WFP needs to get its story out. WFP must become recognized champions of the working and middle classes, stressed by escalating local taxes. New Yorkers pay more local taxes than federal taxes!

In Rockland County, where I live, WFP “fusionized” with independents, conservatives and Democrats, none of whom demanded tax justice. Rockland is typical of suburban and upstate counties, where local taxes double every twelve years. On election day voters who see WFP in fusion with independents and conservatives cannot distinguish us from them. Result: Con-Fusion!

WFP would become a more potent political force if in local elections we were advocates for tax equity, ran our own candidates and showed how more than 80 percent of the taxpayers would save a third to a half by shifting the burden from those with the least to those with the most.

Nation reader for seventy-three years

Somerville, Mass.

Alyssa Katz claims fusion voting “sidesteps the Nader effect,” but this is true only so long as third parties like the Working Families Party do not run their own candidates. Furthermore, fusion voting is only applicable to partisan elections and, therefore, does nothing to mitigate the spoiling of primaries and nonpartisan local elections.

Instant Runoff Voting overcomes these limitations. Under IRV, voters rank their candidates in order of preference (e.g., first: Nader; second: Kerry; third: Bush), and votes are counted so as to insure that the winner always has a majority of support. Thus IRV allows third-party candidates to run without causing the major-party candidate ideologically closest to them to lose. Plus, unlike fusion, IRV can be used for both partisan and nonpartisan elections. Recent IRV victories in San Francisco and Berkeley, California; Ferndale, Michigan; and Burlington, Vermont, demonstrate that Instant Runoff Voting has far more momentum than does fusion.

Instead of looking at recent elections in New York State, let’s look at New York City, where Fernando Ferrer won a six-way Democratic mayoral primary with only a minority of the vote. His low percentage nearly forced a divisive runoff that could have cost the city up to $12 million. Although fusion would be no help here, IRV would consolidate the city’s two-stage runoff process into a cheaper, fairer and less divisive instant runoff election.

While fusion is an improvement over simple plurality, progressives should place their electoral reform hopes and energies in IRV (for more details see www.fairvote.org/irv).


Portland, Maine

You quote Maine Democratic State Representative Hanna Pingree as saying her party fusion bill is necessary because “the Green Party has repeatedly spoiled races for Democrats.” I don’t know about nationally, but here in Maine there is no evidence to substantiate that claim. In fact, exit polls consistently prove the contrary: that of those enrolled in a major party who vote for a Green, about half are Democrats and half Republicans. Voter registration patterns also indicate that the Maine Green Independent Party is composed of as many former Republicans as Democrats and appeals equally to libertarians and conservative Republicans, as well as to socially liberal Democrats. In Maine at least, Greens are not spoilers.

former chair, Maine Green Independent Party

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