Adieu, Swank Filer!–II

Washington, D.C.

I find it hard to face life without Frank W. Lewis’s puzzles. Don’t look for a replacement. Just recycle the sixty-two years’ worth all over again. Then in 2072 you can start running them a third time.





Buoyed by Poetry

Los Angeles

I have little to add to what Ange Mlinko said about the new translations of Rilke ["Angels to Radios," Dec. 14] except to note that I found her review fascinating and inspiring (as well as frustrating, since I’m now going to have to dig up $50 to buy the new translations). Until I can get around to them, I’ll make do with my A. Poulin Jr. edition of Duino Elegies and The Sonnets to Orpheus, which also includes the poems in the original German. With so much in life to weigh one down, thanks for publishing a piece that so sensitively speaks of the nature of poetry.





New Life for ‘Zombie Nukes’

Ithaca, N.Y.

With regard to the problem of old "crumbling, leaky, accident prone" nuclear plants "getting relicensed all over the country," discussed by Christian Parenti in "Zombie Nuke Plants" [Dec. 7], mothballing them cannot be the answer–particularly in the face of the expected increase in demand for electric power for a rapidly rising number of hybrid vehicles needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Instead, while wind, solar and geothermal sources are being developed over the next twenty years, we can convert the dangerous old nuclear plants to operate with relatively clean and plentiful natural gas at a small fraction of the cost of building new plants. This can be done in a year or two by replacing the nuclear reactor with a gas boiler. It was done at the Fort Saint Vrain plant near Denver with no loss of jobs or income for the community.

Not only will this reduce the threat of accidents and terrorist attacks; it will help reduce our rising healthcare costs, because it will end the release of highly radioactive nuclear fission products, which enter our milk, drinking water and food. These emissions are far more damaging than normal background radiation or diagnostic X-rays, and they concentrate in the thyroid, bones and reproductive organs, causing chronic diseases, cancer, stillborns and birth defects. Converting nuclear plants will not only help meet energy needs; it will reduce healthcare costs and improve our health and that of future generations.

Professor emeritus of radiological physics
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine





Easthampton, Mass.

I believe David Cole, whose work I admire, incorrectly assumes that the only choice for trying alleged 9/11 terrorists is between military commissions at Guantánamo and a criminal trial in civil court ["American Justice on Trial," Dec. 7]. I hope I’m not the only person who thinks these parameters miss the point.

The government, by holding Khalid Shaikh Mohammed without charge for six years, waterboarding him 183 times and committing who knows how many other human rights violations against him, forfeited its right to retain jurisdiction over him. If our courts allow the trial and sentencing of KSM to go forward, they will enable the government to get away with its treatment of him without suffering any adverse consequences for doing so. Wouldn’t that amount to judicial tolerance of torture? It is time for the United States to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and hand KSM over to it to be tried at The Hague (see




Berkeley, Calif.

David Cole refers to the right’s view of Eric Holder’s decision: "It was an act of war carried out by enemy combatants," "war crimes," "prosecuting the enemy." These phrases show the mindset of the right–what George Lakoff calls the framing–a mindset they have succeeded in transferring to the public to justify the wars. Cole himself states that the 9/11 attacks were an act of war–thus accepting their definition–then makes the significant point that the perpetrators were criminals, not warriors.

Look at how the British dealt with their 9/11: the attacks on the trains and buses in London. They did not go to "war." Scotland Yard treated these events as crimes and used skilled detectives to find, try and convict the jihadists. Total cost to British taxpayers? Certainly not in the billions.

Imagine if we had had a thoughtful president on 9/11. He would have ordered the FBI, working with Interpol, to find those responsible and extradite and try them in a civilian court. We’d have the billions wasted in Middle Eastern quagmires to apply to our current problems. And we’d have more than 5,000 of our military still with us.





Cole Replies

Washington, D.C.

While I would be the last person to condone our government’s treatment of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I don’t think that mistreatment means that we have "forfeited our right" to hold him accountable for his alleged (and admitted) role in planning the 9/11 attacks. We have certainly forfeited our right to use statements against him obtained from him under coercion, as well as any information obtained by those illegally obtained statements. But our law does not recognize the right not to be tried at all simply because the government has engaged in wrongdoing. One must be tried fairly, and the government must not be permitted any use of information obtained through coercive means. But if it can convict him without recourse to tainted evidence, he can–and should–be held accountable.

The remedy for US wrongdoing is not to let KSM off the hook–or to shift the venue to the International Criminal Court. The remedy is accountability for our own wrongs through any of a variety of mechanisms, including an independent commission, bar disciplinary proceedings, criminal prosecutions or a Congressional apology. To insist that the only form of accountability is to forfeit the right to hold alleged 9/11 terrorists accountable is to doom the project of accountability from the outset.

Pat Cody is correct that nations attacked by terrorists may choose to respond exclusively through the criminal justice system. But when an attack rises to the level of the one we experienced on 9/11, and is committed by a group that has declared war on the United States, a military response is also an option–as evidenced by the fact that both the UN and NATO treated the attack as allowing for the right of self-defense, and that more than 100 nations initially backed our military response when the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden. It is the way the Bush administration carried out that conflict–refusing to be bound by the laws of war, proclaiming a general "war on terror" and invading Iraq–that was the problem, not the choice of a military response.