Regarding your interview with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“Family Ties”): Thanks for proving you can talk to justices and have them say things that don’t affect pending cases. I was always struck by photos of her when she was teaching at Columbia and litigating for the ACLU back in the ’70s. She seemed 11 feet tall with her hair pulled back, but when I first saw her in person, she’s as small as a little bird and you’d think a smile is all you’d get out of her. Glad things worked out so well for Ginsburg, and regrets at the loss of her beloved husband.
C.D. Monroe, Washington, D.C.
THE PHELPS APPROACH
Regarding “Grave Encounters”: The irony that Fred Phelps is relying upon certain fundamental American rights to support his purported entitlement to picket at the funerals of brave young men who fought and died to preserve and defend those rights appears to have eluded him.
While the Supreme Court may ultimately conclude that the First Amendment does protect Phelps’ right to engage in such distasteful and mean-spirited behavior, it is clear that Phelps does not know the first thing about what it means to be an American—or a Christian.
James W. Scott Jr., Philadelphia
For a creative response to the Westboro Baptists, see the website at godlovespoetry.com. Contributors to the site redact Westboro’s daily press releases until all that is left are a few words that create a poem. What a wonderful way to combat hate at a grassroots level!
Loretta Oleksy, Indianapolis
The unfortunate plight of C. Peter Erlinder (“In the Hot Zones”) raises a couple of interesting points. When Erlinder, a defense attorney working at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, “began advocating that position in articles,” there is a strong case to be made that he went beyond “discharging [his lawyerly] functions” and identified himself with his client’s cause. The issue is one worth contemplating, even for those working in the U.S., since a lawyer might be inclined to try a client’s case in the court of public opinion. Like every other right, when one exercises one’s right of free speech, there are still consequences—some of which may be adverse to the interests of the speaker.
Denial of a specific genocide, the Holocaust, is a crime in multiple Western European nations. Whether or not criminalizing this denial is itself an unjustified denial of freedom of speech, the extreme tragedy of what has become known as “the Holocaust” does not give any one ethnic group or government a monopoly on the definition of genocide or on the prohibition of its denial. Rwanda is a sovereign state entitled to define its crimes in its own laws. It should be able to define its own genocide, even if the genocide does not have a specific name, and even if the victims of that alleged genocide are black African Tutsis instead of members of an ethnic group with strong representation in Western society. Rwanda is likewise just as entitled to make genocide denial a crime as is a Western European nation.
William R. Clarke, Richland, Wash.
Your article offers a startling description of what happened in Rwanda in 1994. The third paragraph makes it sound as if the Tutsis may have started the conflict, which ended with a Tutsi group in power; everything that happened in between is whitewashed as “a spasm of violence,” at the end of which “most of those who … fled to refugee camps were Hutus.” It does note that “most of those killed were Tutsis, which prompted many human rights groups and some governments to claim that the attacks by Hutu forces amounted to genocide.” “Most” is a mild word: All the estimates I’ve seen state that 80 to 90 percent of those killed were Tutsis, and that many of the Hutus who were killed were killed by other Hutus.
The extent to which the killings in Rwanda were the result of a well-organized government-led conspiracy may still be in dispute, but the fact that a genocide targeting Tutsis did occur in Rwanda isn’t just a “claim” made by some governments and groups. Your overview of the Rwandan conflict paints a very distorted picture.
Ironically, the same issue of the ABA Journal includes an article about a lawyer helping a group of Rwandan women who were raped during what the article simply calls “the 1994 genocide” (“A Helping Hand”).
“In the Hot Zones” quotes defense attorney Erlinder as saying that “by refusing a cease-fire, the guys who won were responsible for a mass killing.” Of course, Erlinder is doing his job. You, as journalists, are not.
Irina Raicu, Sunnyvale, Calif.
MORE ON VACCINE CASE
In general, while “The Immune Response” was very interesting and, at times, factually accurate, its presentation of the Poling case is a “whole cloth” fabrication on many levels.
First and foremost, the government officials conceded the case before it was heard. Second, it was scheduled to be the first test case for the theory that mercury poisoning from thimerosal in vaccines caused Hannah Poling’s autism. Third, the conjecture about aggravation of a pre-existing mitochondrial condition is at odds with the facts and is a claim asserted by the government and not the Polings. Fourth, though the Polings waived all confidentiality rights for themselves and Hannah concerning the records and documents—and the monetary award has been settled, though the settlement of damages took more than a year to be finalized—the government continues to refuse to unseal all of the records and let the public see the truth about the case that so frightened the government’s medical professionals that they moved to concede the case rather than have the evidence presented in a hearing.
Paul G. King, Lake Hiawatha, N.J.
Congratulations to all of the solos selected for “Legal Rebels: Riding Solo”. Your stories are fascinating and a real inspiration for those of us who decided not to go the BigLaw route.
Also, I’d like to give a special nod to Stephanie Kimbro and Carolyn Elefant, two women whom I hold in high regard and have had the pleasure of knowing through interactions on the Web.
Mike Mintz, Passaic, N.J.