Mark Danner

NYT: Letters to the Editor – Danner responds to Moyn review of Spiral

Author: Mark Danner

To the Editor:

That the war on terror constitutes “a new form of humane warfare,” as Samuel Moyn argues in his review of my book, “Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War” (June 26), will come as a surprise to the families of the at least 200,000 Iraqis; 100,000 Afghans; and various hundreds and thousands of Pakistani, Yemeni and Somali civilians who have died in the wars of Sept. 11. That these hundreds of thousands of civilians lost their lives in “a new form of humane warfare” is an eccentric and fact-free argument, and this is the first time I’ve seen it promoted by anyone not paid to do so by the Pentagon.

Moyn writes that “according to the Senate report, the United States tortured some 40 individuals.” But this figure refers only to the number, out of the 119 who disappeared into the C.I.A.’s secret “black site” prisons, who were subjected to its “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It does not include the scores tortured by the United States military, notably at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. It does not include the more than a hundred who died during interrogation. United States officials have tortured hundreds of prisoners during Moyn’s “new form of humane warfare.” But perhaps these facts make no difference: If you can call officially torturing 40 prisoners “humane warfare,” why not hundreds?

“Danner made his name,” Moyn tells us, “publicizing torture under Latin American dictatorships in the 1980s.” Actually, I didn’t. Can he have dimly in mind a book I published in 1994 about a massacre in the small Central American nation of El Salvador? No way to be sure. One thing about facts — death tolls, numbers tortured, an author’s work: You can look them up. Moyn appears too enthralled by his fantasy of “a new form of humane warfare” to let the facts get in his way.