Eroding Legal Standards Make Us All Less Safe

Having read Samuel Hughes’ article, “Prisons, Poems, and Principles” [Nov|Dec], about attorney Marc Falkoff C’88 and the poems written by detainees at Guantánamo, I am, once again, appalled by the treatment of these prisoners, and disgusted by the way our government has stripped these men of their legal rights, defied the Geneva Convention, applied torture and other “cruel and unusual punishment,” and acted in ways that violate the Constitution and debase us as a nation.

I ask the Penn community; students, professors, administrators, and alumni: Where is the voice rising in defense of the Constitution, demanding adherence to what, until recently, was our rule of law? When habeas corpus is denied, what has happened to the Sixth Amendment? When torture is permitted, what has happened to the Eighth Amendment? Where are the students protesting? Where are the teach-ins, the sit-ins? Where is a forum for a voice of reason to stand against a frenzy of fear?

I would argue that as these safeguards are eroded, those reduced standards of protection make us all less safe.

Susan deLone Kennedy CW’65 Doylestown, PA


Trained to Lie

Mark Falkoff should be very careful when he bases his judgments on the fact that prisoners are “young, polite, self-effacing men.”

The idea that “it only takes sitting down with these men for a few hours to get a sense of who they really are,” is foolish. Maybe he is right about some, but he is probably wrong as often as not. A real Al Qaeda fighter is trained to lie, some are probably good at it.

It seems somewhat overreaching to me to proclaim detentions at Guantánamo lawless based on the evidence presented.

Joe Deegan C’67 Philadelphia


Thanks for Nothing

One of the reasons that I love The Pennsylvania Gazette is that it always reflects the realities of the Penn campus.

You graciously printed in the Nov|Dec “Alumni Notes” for the Class of 1960 the fact that I had received the highest award given to civilians by the Department of Defense, the Medal for Distinguished Public Service. Thank you for my two column-inches.

But reflecting the political thinking of the University, earlier in the issue you devoted seven full pages to a graduate of the Class of 1988 who is devoting his time to attempting to start a Taliban Poetry Society at Guantánamo Bay. The membership in that society being composed of poor, misunderstood, good ol’ boys that want to cut our throats.

Thank God I graduated from Penn with an understanding about how to serve my country in a way that comports with reality.

Robert M. Rosenthal W’60 Studio City, CA


Only Hard-Core Jihadis Were Sent to Gitmo

Marc Falkoff argues that all the Yemeni prisoners he meets with in Gitmo are “innocent.”


My cousin has been a homicide detective in Philadelphia for 40 years. He jokes that he has never understood why he gets paid because—as Mr. Falkoff’s polemic would have us believe—he always arrests “innocent” people. Falkoff’s stridency in buying into this nonsense showed me a breathtaking example of Islamic taqiyya (dissimulation). Only his hubris helps him buy into such obvious lies, misinformation, and deception.

Taqiyya is the Islamic doctrine of deliberate dissimulation about religious matters (such as jihad) that may be undertaken to protect Islam, and the Believers. Dissimulation, or deception, involves the concealment of truth. Basically, the prisoners Falkoff champions conceal their past, their actions, and their plans to gain the element of surprise over an opponent. In short, the good lawyer is being used, if willingly, to gain release so they can fight another day.

When one of these prisoners writes, “And Islam will prevail in all corners of the earth” I take him at his word. Since the Koran divides the world into the “House of Islam” and the “House of Arrogance” this line shows the poet knows well his Islamic theology. As a poet, I find that line chilling.

What is especially disturbing is Falkoff’s believing the assertion that all his charges were teachers, missionaries, charity workers, or, in one case, actually went to Afghanistan because of the great medical care to be found there.

According to Falkoff, everyone has an airtight alibi and no one is a jihadi. Somehow, we are to believe, they just innocently ended up at the hottest battle zone of the Afghan war at Tora Bora in 2001.

Even more incredible is his acceptance of the claim that, “there were two routes out of Tora Bora, where hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters had been holed up. One was to Khost, the other was across the White Mountains. The Al Qaeda operatives took the latter route.” The Americans, “oblivious to the actual escape route of the fighters,” picked up people like his clients instead. And what is his “proof” of this story? A British historian named Andy Worthington who was not even there.

My brother-in-law, who was a reserve National Guard soldier and a member of the 10th Mountain Brigade, was there. He didn’t want to be. He wanted to be bringing in the apples at his orchard, but at 53 was called to duty in Afghanistan. I ran Mr. Falkoff’s assertions past him.

His response was that in 2001 when he fought there, the Taliban and Al Qaeda used a tactic whereby they would seek to hand over the village idiot to the Americans and hope the Americans would think that such an unfortunate was the enemy. Due to this tactic, the American forces were very, very careful to vet whomever they caught or whoever was turned over to them. Rather than the cruel monsters or inept soldiers Mr. Falkoff snootily condescends about, these were highly dedicated professionals who knew the enemy and took pains to ensure they only took the time and effort to send hardcore jihadis to Gitmo.

He also said that because the battle for Afghanistan funneled down to Tora Bora, anyone near it—in other words, Falkoff’s clients—were hardcore. And the Americans, in an effort to get along with the Afghans, rather than being oblivious to the various escape routes of the jihadis as the historian alleges, allowed various Afghan tribes to guard one side of the mountain. That would prove to be a fatal mistake because many of those tribes did allow the jihadis to escape to Pakistan.

The jihadis from Yemen that Mr. Falkoff is so fond of have shown a particularly nasty urge to kill Americans on land and sea. Why should we release them?

No doubt the Hollywood screenplay is already being written that will lionize Falkoff’s efforts to free his jihadis so they are able to kill more Americans another day. Like Falkoff’s case in this article, it will be another Hollywood fiction where the facts will be ignored because the political agenda justifies the means.

Bruce Curley C’77 Mount Airy, MD


Not So Selfless

I take issue with Mr. Hughes’s opening statement that Marc Falkoff has “seemingly nothing to gain” from representing Guantanamo detainees and his role in publishing a book of their poetry. Unless Falkoff donated the royalties from his book to charity, he had everything to gain, not to mention possible job offers from other institutions.

William G. Spangle D’76 Williamsport, PA


Presidential Candidates Should Take This Medicine

I wish to commend the Gazette for the excellence of the article on U.S. health care and its political future [“Diagnosing Health Care,” Nov|Dec]. This panel discussion is among the most in-depth, trenchant analyses I have read of the political, economic, and moral challenges this society faces in the struggle to ensure better health care for our population.

How much better off we would be if all the current presidential candidates read and digested this article and then were required to debate how to make the American health-care system (and not just emergency care) be equitable and accessible for all, regardless of place of employment.

Rick Randolph G’72 Keswick, VA


Trust the Market, Not Bureaucrats

I had different thoughts than your experts offered in “Diagnosing Health Care.” Health-care insurance should be a taxable benefit. Tax rates should be reduced so that the change is revenue-neutral to the U.S. Treasury. Employees might prefer lower-cost, high-deductible insurance meant to cover extraordinary medical contingencies, and higher cash compensation, rather than more expensive comprehensive insurance and less cash, which are advantaged under our current tax regime. More cash-paying patients would bring more value-shopping discipline to the health-care industry. Also, the supply of health-care providers could be increased by allowing, say, registered nurses with 10 years’ clinical experience, to open frontline medical offices—acting as lower-cost general practitioners, referring cases beyond their skill level to MDs. Medical malpractice should be reformed to reduce out-sized punitive damages. The states could be pressured to make such changes by making federal funding contingent upon it.

Universal health care is government intrusion in what should be a very private matter: the individual’s personal health-care choices. It is more than a disguised transfer-payment system taxing the healthy and wealthy, subsidizing the sick and poor. It defeats the price mechanism, substituting clumsy bureaucratic control for the infinitely more responsive market. It will result in higher costs, higher taxes, waiting lists, and decreased incentives for innovation and excellence.

Samuel Fitting C’74 New York


Good Material, Some Confusion

The subject of health care in our country today is important and complex. The issue of cost has been the overriding one for the public, but the issues of who pays for it and who are the beneficiaries are inextricable. The commentary of four scholars who are immersed in this subject consequently led me to spend some time reading their thoughts and opinions.

The question and answer format is a difficult one to use since each response must stand on its own without necessarily referring to other questions and responses. Samuel Hughes consequently expended considerable effort to piece together an article that would be reasonably cogent. He did it, however, and in doing it covered an enormous amount of ground: the cost of U.S. health care and its causes; the often contradictory preferences that Americans have in health care; the quality of health care and its variability dependent upon how quality is defined; the problem of fairness in a system with so many uninsured and underinsured; the trade-offs involved in reforming the system—to name some of the obvious ones.

However, the article also contains a considerable amount of confusing language.

David Asch in his initial paragraph alludes to the “broad distribution of health care costs and spending.”  I inferred broad to mean, broadly based, but in the context of this paragraph it appears to mean, highly varied, a change that significantly alters the meaning of the paragraph.

In response to the question regarding Michael Moore’s depiction of the Canadian health-care system, David Asch says, “One of the common statements about the Canadian health system is that no matter how well it works, it would work a lot worse if Canada weren’t so close to the U.S.” Arnold Rosoff echoes these statement two paragraphs further on. After rereading Asch’s response several times, I conclude that he is saying that this common statement is a misconception held by many in the U.S.—and it is a misconception—but the way the article is written suggests that he believes it to be true.

Arnold Rosoff’s response to the same question about the Canadian health system says, “Canada and the U.K. have well-documented problems of ‘rationing by the queue.’” What Canada and the U.K. do is no more rationing than what the U.S. does by allowing millions of its citizens to be uninsured. In neither case are goods and services in short supply—a prerequisite for rationing—rather it is the money to pay for them that is in short supply.

In response to the question, “Why is our variegated private system a good thing?” Mark Pauly says, “This is an important and popular error.” What is “an important and popular error?” Is it the question itself, something in David Asch’s answer that precedes Pauly’s, or in his statement that immediately follows his declaration? I cannot discern what he means, and the possible choices would all create significantly different answers from each other.

The notion of choice is mentioned in several places, and it is consequently hard to determine what is meant by choice, probably because it is such a slippery word. Fortunately the definition is well summed up by David Asch as code for market-based approaches. What is missing, however, is any mention of adverse selection and its effect on choice by even this limited definition.

In the general media the topic of health care, paying for it and providing it, is riddled with slogans and unsupported statements. This article on the other hand contains a lot of good material from thoughtful people. I can only wish that it had been written with even greater clarity and less ambiguity.

John McCahan C’58 M’63 Weston, MA


A Plan All the Candidates Can Unite in Opposing

In “Diagnosing Health Care,” Dr. Pauly was quoted: “Any proposal to do something about the uninsured is better than what we have.”

A few years ago the House of Delegates for the Medical Society of New Jersey at its annual meeting passed the following resolution (I have changed the whereases, and only the whereases, to fit today’s circumstances.)

 “Whereas: One current candidate for high office is reported to have a war chest of well over $100 million and others are scurrying to catch up.

“Whereas: There are 44 million or more uninsured.

“Resolved: The Medical Society of New Jersey investigate the feasibility of seeking legislation to tax the recipient of political contributions 50% of the contribution, and the proceeds be dedicated to paying for the premiums of the uninsured.”

The president of the Medical Society at the time said, “This hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell, but we need to pass it, anyway,” and it passed.

A. Ralph Kristeller M’54 East Hanover, NJ


Expletive Deleted (Please!)

Today I suspect that few would quibble over the assertion that the pornification of America’s culture has succeeded beyond all expectations, with profanity long leading the way. My reason for mentioning this was inspired upon spying in the essay, “The Mississippi Project” [“Notes From the Undergrad,” Nov|Dec], the words, S--- [spelled out], this is weird. Had the word or phrase been omitted, nothing would have been lost from my Class of 1944 perspective (for which I am very grateful).

My curiosity now aroused, I’d love to know if the common four-letter words of antiquity and today are a regular part of campus classroom lectures and discourses. Also, what sort of advice is given to job-seekers regarding the proper use of profane language at interviews and on the job? Do the women favor the same set of expletives as the men?

In closing, should Hollywood do a retake of Gone With the Wind, Rhett Butler no doubt will utter his earthshaking line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a s---” (or possibly even a Bono version). I never cease to marvel at how modern English has evolved into such a liberated work of art.

Cyrus J. Sharer W’44 St. Davids, PA


What About the Ice Rink?

Would the proposed plans for the development of Penn’s eastern campus call for the demolition of the Class of 1923 Ice Rink? If so, does that not demean the gift of the Class of 1923 when they donated the funds to have it erected?

Should not a university the size of Penn with its endowments and fundraising capabilities be able to field a varsity ice hockey team, as it did until 1978? It is disgraceful that they do not.

Tom Guarino C’77 Mount Laurel, NJ

Second opinions on Falkoff, health care.

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