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Barton Gellman, Jane Mayer, Tom Hayden and others talk torture

April 25, 2009 | 12:39 pm

Barton

What’s more important: security or freedom? This particular question comes to mind for me every time I pass through airport security and have to take off my shoes and empty my pockets of change. 

In this time of terrorism, nuclear threat and new struggles for civil and human rights, those on the panel "Rock & a Hard Place: Security and American Ideals" on Saturday morning at the L.A. Times Book Festival sought to answer this very difficult question.

What is most important to Americans now? How far should Americans go to tackle terror?


Moderator Doyle McManus, longtime columnist and Times correspondent, opened the conversation with: “The news of this week could not make this topic more immediate or urgent. We are still a nation marked by September 11,” he said.

Panelist Barton Gellman then spoke about his book "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," for which he won a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for current interest Friday night. Gellman said his book began as a series in the Washington Post. He spent a year on the assignment.

“Cheney sort of became my white whale," he said. "I couldn’t stop chasing.”

“There’s no crying in the situation room,” he quipped, explaining the mental armor it took to keep following Cheney.

(McManus called Gellman one of the “best reporters alive,” by the way. How’s that for a compliment?)

Panelist Jane Mayer, of the New Yorker, who was nominated for an LAT Book Prize for  "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals," said it takes time to get below the surface of the complicated issues at hand. She reveled in finding people who cried out that the American rulebook had gone out the window after 9/11.

Quoting an FBI agent she interviewed who did not agree with the American way of fighting terror worldwide, she said: " 'If you take away their clothes and beat them up, you won’t only not get any information, but you’ll lose your soul.' "

"Pakistan, Afghanistan, Guantanamo or Washington," she said, "you can see how it all fits together.”

Panelist Tom Hayden said we must ask ourselves: “Is torture necessary?”

The session, held in the large Ackerman Grand Ballroom, was filled with people. Clearly, American freedom and American security are both still top of mind for many Angelenos. People clamored to get in, filling elevators, squeezing in next to one another. And as we all sat there listening and learning silently, we were all left wondering, where do we go from here?

-- Lori Kozlowski

Photo: From left, McManus, Mayer, Hayden, Gellman. Credit: George Ducker 

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