John L. Wiley
Newport News, Va.
In January/February’s “Torturer’s Apprentice,” Cullen Murphy outlined the sickening parallels between today’s interrogation tactics and those used by the Inquisition.
I once ran across a reference to 13th-century Italian regulations that limited judicially mandated torture to one hour a day and required a physician’s certification that the target was physically fit to undergo the torture. How strange, I mused, to suppose that cruelty could be a tool, coolly and rationally used in the service of justice and the common good. Cruelty has a momentum of its own, and thwarts efforts to use it “moderately.” Smugly, I thought that we modern Americans knew better than 13th-century Italians.
I was wrong.
Reverend James A. Schumacher
I share Cullen Murphy’s distaste for torture, but I was astonished to read the following sentence in his article: “Oklahoma and a dozen other states have introduced legislation to ban the use of Islamic sharia law in any way within their jurisdictions, despite the fact that it has become a problem exactly nowhere.”
Nowhere? Even in Oklahoma we are aware of the millions of tortured and abused Islamic women around the world, trapped in arranged marriages since their early teens. These poor souls would take issue with Mr. Murphy’s statement. A wife in Saudi Arabia, sentenced to be publicly stoned to death for adultery, might also want to say a few words against sharia, as would a condemned thief about to have his hand cut off.
Scott T. Schad
Cullen Murphy replies:
To Scott Schad’s point, the references in that paragraph to “Oklahoma,” “Texas,” and “America today” were meant to indicate that the context is the United States.
STORY UPDATE: “THE LAZARUS FILE”
In the June 2011 Atlantic, Matthew McGough reported on a cold case gone suddenly hot, as the Los Angeles Police Department investigated one of its own. When a young nurse named Sherri Rasmussen was murdered in 1986, the police suspected a burglary. But 23 years later, in 2009, the LAPD used DNA technology unavailable at the time of the murder to analyze evidence, and closed in on a most unlikely suspect: Stephanie Lazarus, an art-theft detective.
In early March, the former detective (she retired while in jail) was found guilty of first-degree murder. Sentencing is scheduled for May. Lazarus, 51, faces 27 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Her lawyer has said they plan to appeal.
In January, The Atlantic received a letter from the Central California Women’s Facility, in Chowchilla, informing us that the prison had denied an inmate (and subscriber) her copy of the December 2011 issue because the cover image was of a member of the Taliban holding a rifle. The letter said:
This is based on a violation of the California Code of Regulations … which states in part, “no warfare or weaponry” …
Please be advised that you have the right … to appeal this issue.
Jeffrey Goldberg, who along with Marc Ambinder wrote the cover story in question, “The Ally From Hell,” did appeal the decision, in a letter to Warden Deborah K. Johnson that he published on his blog. In part, it read:
The photograph has great journalistic merit. It vividly illustrates the challenges American leaders face in Pakistan and the surrounding region. The photograph and story do not glorify violence in any way. Quite the opposite: we published the article, and the accompanying images, in order to highlight the dangers of violence in South Asia.
We believe that The Atlantic serves a valuable educational purpose for its readers, including [this prisoner], and we would encourage you to rethink the decision to deny her access to our magazine.
A month later, the warden responded to Goldberg’s appeal:
It is the policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to encourage correspondence between inmates and persons outside the correctional facility …
After further researching the matter it was determined that The Atlantic, December 2011 issue, is not in violation … and will be allowed into the institution.
“The Last Line of Defense” (March) identified a murder victim as both Daniel Swanson and Richard Swanson; the man’s name was Daniel Swanson. “Why Companies Fail” (March) stated that Blockbuster launched its streaming service in 2004; the company launched its online DVD-rental service that year. “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy” (March) said Jaroslav Flegr is 63 years old; he was 53 when the article was published.
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