- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Border agents must uphold their oath

If the report that supervisors of the U.S. Border Patrol in Arizona ordered agents not to arrest illegal aliens in the area patrolled last month by the Minutemen Project is proved to be accurate, those involved need to be reminded that the oath they took means their allegiance is to this nation, not their boss (“Border Patrol told to stand down in Arizona,” Page 1, Friday).

Though supervisors should actively support the lawful orders given by the chain of command, they should never follow unlawful orders or pass them on to those they lead. Anyone who would give or imply an order to agents not to arrest illegal aliens should not be employed to defend the borders of the United States or get paid to supervise those who have sworn an oath to do so.

The report says that orders were relayed by unnamed Border Patrol supervisors. I do not think the supervisors at the Border Patrol’s Naco station would have given such an order without the knowledge of Border Patrol Tucson Sector Chief Michael Nicely and without at least his tacit approval.

In an interview on Fox News, Chief Nicely strongly stated that it was the Border Patrol, not the Minuteman Project, that caused the illegal attempts to cross the border to drop where the Minutemen operated. Yet 500 additional agents were moved to that sector only because the Minutemen were to set up there, as evidenced by the fact the Border Patrol made the announcement it would reinforce that sector just a couple of days before the Minutemen began their month-long vigil. It also was Chief Nicely who barred Chris Simcox, a credentialed reporter (and owner and editor) of the Tombstone Tumbleweed and co-founder of the Minuteman Project, from a press conference on border security held by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

If he also gave an order not to arrest illegal aliens in a scheme to “prove” the Minutemen were ineffective, Chief Nicely has violated his oath, and he should either turn in his badge or be fired.

TIMOTHY W. SUMNER

Martinsburg, Pa.

Knave judged properly

This comment is in response to your Saturday editorial “Nobles and knaves,” in which you identify as knave “the Discovery Channel, for doing a very poor job of designing a poll to determine the ‘Top 100 Greatest Americans.’ ”

My daughter frequently asks questions like: “When you were my age, who was your favorite actor, or pop musician?” Our conversations, while amusing, prompt the realization that I did not devote much (if any) energy to such thoughts as a teenager in the 1950s. I thought often, though, about the greatest-ever musician (whether it was Beethoven, Chopin or the like) or the greatest athlete in a particular sport or the greatest military commander. The term “greatest” has connotations that transcend popular culture and particular people. Rather than concentrate on any one person as the “greatest” in any category, my thought process as a youth focused more on what I later was told had to do with Plato’s ideal.

Your criticism of the Discovery Channel’s poll was appropriate. Our modern age seems overly engrossed in personalities and is so at the expense of ideas and ideals. To make proper judgments about people ultimately requires judgments involving philosophy, morals, ethics and such. With the current popular trend being an avoidance of such matters, it is not surprising that vacuous polls pop up.

ALBERT B. HALL

Friday Harbor, Wash.

Sentencing laws need re-examination

I do not think anyone would disagree that there are many people in prison who deserve to be there, but let’s take a look at the situation from a reality standpoint. Sunday’s editorial “Federal prisoners and their guards” stated, “And indeed no definitive evidence has emerged that assaults are spiking. But that’s not to say the risk isn’t there. The typical inmate today is more likely to be a violent offender with a long sentence and little to lose by attacking his guards than the typical inmate of a decade or two ago.”

There are 181,000 men and women in federal prison alone. Of this amount, nearly 84 percent are first-time nonviolent offenders. The so-called war on drugs has been proved repeatedly to be a complete failure, and yet, as a people, we have allowed our government to continue locking up people for minor drug crimes at the federal level and to be given draconian sentences with no hope of parole, as there is no parole for federal prisoners.

The Bureau of Prisons places guards in these prisons who it claims are trained professionals — when in fact they are trained to intimidate and abuse. Violence is never acceptable, mind you, but when was the last time you visited a federal prison? Have you ever tried to walk into a federal prison to visit someone and been treated as a prisoner by the guards on duty? Probably not.

The general public has stereotyped every person incarcerated as a violent individual who undoubtedly has committed some atrocious crime. That is not even close to the truth. As a matter of fact, the recent statistics released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that the number of incarcerated Americans is nothing short of staggering: 2.1 million U.S. residents — one in every 138 — locked up as of mid-2004.

That’s nearly as many people as live in the entire Denver metropolitan area, and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 900 more prisoners are added weekly, even as crime rates fall.

It isn’t cheap, either. Prisons cost U.S. taxpayers about $49 billion a year. Get-tough policies from the 1980s and early 1990s, such as mandatory drug sentences and “three-strikes” life terms, have filled U.S. prisons and jails.

Legislators should revisit sentencing and drug laws. The public needs to be educated about who really is incarcerated and what their “offenses” are, not what the media paint them to be. The legislators need to know the truth behind these sentencing practices, and the Bureau of Prisons needs to do a better job of educating and training its personnel. I think the public would be astonished and appalled to learn what goes on behind prison walls.

JUDY FREYERMUTH

Executive director

Federal Prison Policy Project

Riverdale, Ga.

Turkey should face facts

It is disingenuous at best for Turkey’s ambassador to the United States to tout his government’s offer to establish a commission to study the Armenian genocide (“To reconcile Turks and Armenians,” Commentary, May 3). As the ambassador is well aware, more than 120 Holocaust and genocide scholars have declared the Armenian genocide an incontestable fact. Furthermore, the International Center for Transitional Justice recently released a legal study implicitly supported by the Turkish government that declared “The Events, viewed collectively, can thus be said to include all of the elements of the crime of genocide as defined in the Convention, and legal scholars as well as historians, politicians, journalists and other people would be justified in continuing to so describe them.”

The scholars and lawyers have spoken. It is long past time for Turkey to face the judgment of history.

ANTHONY BARSAMIAN

Chairman, Board of Directors

Armenian Assembly of America

Washington

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