Introductory letter

WASHINGTON—The assertion by a former CIA interrogator that the tactic known as waterboarding was effective in shaking potentially life-saving information from a leading terrorist has infused new passion into the debate over torture, both in the presidential campaign and in government.

Retired CIA agent John Kiriakou made the rounds of network and cable news programs Monday and Tuesday describing how waterboarding, an interrogation technique that makes a prisoner believe he is in imminent danger of drowning, had prompted Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah to provide critical information after he had held out for weeks. Kiriakou's revelations come on the heels of the disclosure that the CIA destroyed videotapes of such interrogations.

The retired agent's comments have revived one of the toughest questions in the torture debate: What if using distasteful, even repugnant, tactics is the most effective way to get hardened terrorists to reveal information that could save American lives?

Despite his devotion to Hester’s story, the narrator has trouble writing it. First, he feels that his Puritan ancestors would find it frivolous, and indeed he is not able to write until he has been relieved of any real career responsibilities. Second, he knows that his audience will be small, mostly because he is relating events that happened some two hundred years ago. His time spent in the company of the other customhouse men has taught the narrator that it will be difficult to write in such a way as to make his story accessible to all types of people—particularly to those no longer young at heart. But he regards it as part of his challenge to try to tell Hester’s story in a way that makes it both meaningful and emotionally affecting to all readers. His last step in preparing to write is to stop battling the “real world” of work and small-mindedness and to give himself up to the “romance” atmosphere of his story.

Introductory letter

introductory letter


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