- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

Progress in the Central African Republic

I am pleased that The Washington Times in the past has reported on my country, and I especially appreciate the attention paid to the horrific impact of the AIDS pandemic on our people. It is important for the American public to understand the trials many African nations are facing. The problems within the Central African Republic need international recognition and support for finding solutions so that our people can rise out of their dire straits.
Equally important, however, is the manner in which our problems are portrayed. The article "Supernatural suspicions on rise" (World, Aug. 8) gave a true account of events; yet such events are misrepresentative of the daily issues confronting our people and the profound problems at their root. It would be as if the articles in our own national papers reported exclusively on child molestation, police brutality and hate crimes in the United States.
Regrettably, The Times failed to note that our country has one of the most progressive HIV/AIDS policies in Africa and that we are committed to combating this scourge. Representatives from the Bill Gates Foundation recently visited to discuss the pandemic with my government and those working to fight its spread. It is greatly unexpected for a reputable news organization such as The Times to report in such a sensationalistic manner, ignoring roots of the problem such as poverty and deficient education, which our government is attempting to address with meager resources.
It would be so helpful if The Times would put a focus on development in our country that affects millions of people for example, the political progress we have made.
The Central African Republic has a democratically elected government. Former President Jimmy Carter observed the last presidential elections and deemed them to be fair and open something many African nations have yet to have accomplished. It also would be helpful if The Times examined the heavy debt burden that my country has with the World Bank and our hard work to get an International Monetary Fund program. All our efforts are constantly thwarted by finding the goal posts have been moved.
Although my country is one of the poorest in Africa, in order to get IMF and World Bank programs, we are being asked by the Bretton Woods institutions to shell out more in debt payments than we would receive in new funding.
It is unfortunate that an aspect of African culture has been allowed to dominate the perceptions of the American media while the very real story of the ongoing trials of our development often goes unheard.
The government of the Central African Republic is attempting to alleviate the suffering, poverty and lack of education of our people. We are asking for understanding, support and, at the very least, objectivity as we try to cross the ever-growing developmental divide.

EMMANUEL TOUABOY
Ambassador
Central African Republic
Washington

When the truth hurts

Paulette Cooper's Op-Ed column on Thursday, "Telling the truth isn't torture," displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights conferred by the Constitution on criminal suspects. She points out that the administration of "truth serum" is different from torture because her own experience under the drug's influence "didn't hurt at all." It certainly is true that the use of truth serum does not cause pain. But the physical suffering of a suspect is not the only reason torture is outlawed.
Torture is also forbidden because a suspect has the right not to incriminate himself or herself. If a suspect is beaten enough, he or she very well may surrender that right and say anything prosecutors want to hear. Likewise, when given truth serum, a suspect is helpless to prevent self-incrimination. In terms of their effect, torture and truth serum are quite the same.
Miss Cooper's analogy of the use of truth serum to intravenous feeding or lifesaving surgery also is incorrect, as neither of those forces self-incrimination upon a suspect. She also makes the false claim that lie-detector tests "are frequently inaccurate, yet that doesn't stop them from being administered and its findings used." Actually, lie-detector tests cannot be given without a subject's consent.
I'm glad Miss Cooper was cleared as a suspect for a crime she didn't commit. Her suggestion, however, that truth serum be used as a matter of course on criminals or criminal suspects promotes a gross violation of this nation's laws.
As an aside, I wonder how Miss Cooper would feel if what she had said while being interrogated under truth serum had served to advance the prosecution's case against her.

MICHAEL ROTHSTEIN
New York

More democracy, less despotism for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Thursday's editorial "Going native in Afghanistan" neglects to mention the fundamental affliction in Afghanistan and Pakistan: a lack of democratic institutions. As is the case with many other unfortunately situated peoples, the citizens of both Afghanistan and Pakistan need democracy and institutions that provide for accountability.

Arguably, the foreign terrorists who wash up on the shores of such nations do so by invitation and not by accident. When necessary, the "fiercely independent" tribes you cite have not hesitated to use foreigners to carry on a hoary tradition of internecine rivalry. While Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government has taken several incremental steps to withdraw the welcome mat for the foreigners, the recently held loya jirga (great council) lays a firm foundation for democratic institutions.

Pakistan's threshold to eliminate foreign terrorists is far lower given the military's continually displayed ability to turn in terrorists well after September 11. Nevertheless, in exhorting President Pervez Musharraf to focus on foreign terrorists, The Times treats the symptom and not the malady. Military governments the world over look for a raison d'etre and, invariably, foreign powers and individuals are blamed for the many ills they foist on their peoples.

Asking a general to remedy that is as futile as expecting a windsock to change the direction of the wind.


VIJAY DANDAPANI

New York

The bad side of a 'good-government group'

In his column, "Environmental jihads" (Commentary, Aug. 7), Doug Bandow portrays the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as a good-government group trying to help its state legislator members develop beneficial public policies. Then he expends most of his energy railing against our organizations. Rather than counter his baseless critique, we think it best to reveal the truth about ALEC. Here are a few facts that Mr. Bandow ignores and ALEC doesn't advertise.

Its activities are almost entirely funded, not by dues from legislator members, but by major corporations and their trade and professional associations. In return for corporate cash, ALEC pushes special-interest legislation for its donors and gives them access to lawmakers at all-expense-paid conferences in vacation locales. Protecting corporate polluters from environmental regulation is one major ALEC goal.

Just this past week, oil companies, chemical conglomerates and many more corporate giants paid tens of thousands of dollars each to ALEC for the right to wine, dine and influence state lawmakers from around the country during a four-day conference at a posh resort hotel in Orlando, Fla.

Influence peddling to shape government laws to suit corporate special interests is not just a Washington phenomenon. It is just as aggressive if not as visible in the states. Especially now, as the nation demands greater corporate responsibility, it's time to shine the public spotlight on how ALEC allows major corporations to greatly influence state-level policy-making.

That's why Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resources Defense Council have published a report titled "Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States: The Untold Story Behind the American Legislative Exchange Council."

Endorsed by public-interest organizations such as the Center for Policy Alternatives, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the League of Conservation Voters and Public Citizen it is available online at www.alecwatch.org.


ROBERT DEWEY

Vice President for Government Relations and External Affairs

Defenders of Wildlife

Washington


GREGORY WETSTONE

Director of Advocacy

Natural Resources Defense Council

Washington

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