The June 9 editorial "Legalizing Torture" posed several rhetorical questions. Here are more:

* What if by using torture against an al Qaeda operative, U.S. forces were able to save one American life. Should torture be authorized?

* What if by using torture against an al Qaeda operative, U.S. forces were able to prevent a significant terrorist attack and save hundreds or thousands of American lives. Should torture be authorized?

* What if by using torture against an al Qaeda operative, U.S. forces were able to prevent a terrorist attack against Great Britain. Should torture be authorized?

Editorials viewed in an intellectual vacuum can be neat exercises in criticism. When viewed against the realities of a war against terror, they can appear foolish.

Put yourself in the position of president. He has been advised that in extraordinary circumstances, he has extraordinary powers. Then ask the three questions posed above.

DOUG SANTO

Pasadena, Calif.

*

I listened to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft speak, instead of testifying, before the Senate Judiciary Committee [front page, June 9], and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) was onto something when he warned Mr. Ashcroft that his refusal to turn over memos on interrogation techniques might place him in contempt of Congress. Mr. Ashcroft should be cited for contempt because of his unresponsive answers, evasions and refusal to answer some of the questions.

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked if he would provide information to the Senate in a classified hearing, Mr. Ashcroft went off on a tangent that covered the definition of torture, but he did not say whether he would provide the information. He did the same when Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked when requested information would be forthcoming from the Justice Department.

Mr. Ashcroft's mind-set seems more suited for running an inquisition than running the Department of Justice.

ARTHUR ROBERT THOMAS

Silver Spring

*

The Justice Department's defense of the torture of foreign citizens in the interests of national security will undoubtedly be refuted by able constitutional scholars. For now it should be enough to be reminded that the Supreme Court has held that aliens are guaranteed due process rights (Wong Yang Sung v. McGrath) and some other constitutional rights as well.

The Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment and a number of other constitutional rights apply to all people in the United States, not just citizens. Most important, even if one is not particularly concerned about the plight of detainees, all Americans are entitled to have their government abide by the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

It is our rights that are violated when our government feels free to torture any human beings, regardless of their status or apparent crimes.

EDWARD DUNKELBERGER

Bethesda

*

How is it that the Defense Department, the Justice Department and the White House counsel's office were all writing lengthy and detailed memos on the laws against torture, how to get around the laws against torture, and the president's alleged authority to "set aside" the laws against torture, and yet nobody had any intention of torturing anybody?

JOYCE HARMON

King George

*

I am disturbed at the lengths to which the administration is going to obtain intelligence in the war on terrorism [front page, June 8]. Instead of working within the bounds of the law, our security-related agencies and the Defense Department seem to be coming up with technicalities to explain why their actions are not illegal.

As a scholar of German language and history, especially the history of the National Socialist Party, I am bothered by my government trying to excuse questionable practices with the legal excuse that if actions were undertaken by command, then the burden of guilt is lifted. This was the legal argument used by the Nazi war criminals on trial after World War II.

The second aspect of using torture to gather information is that studies have shown that it yields little useful intelligence. A patient, rewards-based interrogation yields firmer results and more credible intelligence.

Our hyper-aggressive, unilateral attitude toward security carries the risk that we will not only fail to stop terrorism but lend credence to the words of those who wish to harm us.

CHARLES MARTIN-SHIELDS

Washington