Juliette Kayyem [Outlook, July 10] proposes that Congress plug gaps in existing law on the treatment of terrorism suspects under interrogation. But the gaps she mentions are largely the product of her selective citation.

Ms. Kayyem says that terrorism suspects "don't fit the categories of the Geneva Conventions," an apparent reference to the specific treatment afforded prisoners of war. But the Geneva Conventions protect everyone detained on the battlefield from inhumane treatment. Moreover, U.S. and international law protect all detainees from torture, which Ms. Kayyem mentions, but also cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, which she does not. The need today is to enforce these laws, not, as Ms. Kayyem has suggested, to create new regulations that water them down.

These laws reflect standards of decency that Americans share with people around the world. The Bush administration's failure to abide by them, and its determination, when caught, to blame only low-level offenders, have done enormous damage to America's standing in the world.

Ms. Kayyem doesn't give enough weight to the self-defeating consequences of America's mistreatment of detainees. The real problem is that the loss of moral high ground alienates people in the communities that generate terrorists; their cooperation is essential to any successful counterterrorism effort.


Executive Director

Human Rights Watch

New York