To the editors:

I was quite surprised by the positions attributed to me in a recent letter to the Reader [June 5] by an Andrew Cooper (whom, to my knowledge, I have never met).

My sister Nancy died on a cold basement floor with her husband lying dead beside her and her own life seeping away; her last moments were spent in terror and pain, not the least of which was knowing that the child she longed for would never be born. An autopsy report said her insides were torn apart by bullets. I would give everything I have to see her walk through the door with her baby in her arms and her husband beside her. I’d give my life if it would bring hers back.

Mr. Cooper refers to my “posture as a grieving victim.” My grief is not a pose. It is heart-wrenchingly real.

Mr. Cooper says my solution for Britain’s well-documented human-rights abuses in Northern Ireland is “indiscriminate murder and heinous terrorism.” It is not. The solution I have always proposed is for Britain to stop the abuse. In other words, I have suggested that Britain repeal the so-called “emergency” laws that permit juryless courts, abolition of the right to silence, censorship, warrantless searches, detentions without trial and withholding of the right to counsel, among other things. I have questioned why Britain fails to prosecute members of the security forces who have killed unarmed civilians. I have inquired about repeated incidents of physical abuse of detainees by soldiers and police. And I have asked why it is that Catholics in Northern Ireland are still more than twice as likely as Protestants to be out of a job.

It is most disingenuous to suggest, as Mr. Cooper does, that I “help and support organizations whose only raison d’etre is to spread the same pain among equally blameless families.” Of course I do not. The families I know in Northern Ireland have suffered immensely. Their homes have been torn apart in baseless predawn raids by the British Army. Their sons have been beaten in custody and tried without a jury under laws which reverse the burden of proof. Their daughters are forcibly strip-searched in prison, by methods which psychologists report inflict trauma similar to that of rape victims. Their neighbors have been murdered by the army, police or paramilitaries. I help and support organizations which tell the truth about that suffering, in the hope that public awareness will lead to public pressure for change.

Mr. Cooper says that I “deserve to be watched by the FBI” if I “know and consort with terrorist murderers.” The problem with that, of course, is that the FBI denied ever watching me for that reason. Indeed, FBI agents told me on two separate occasions that they were NOT investigating me, and that the only reason they wanted the names of people I knew in Northern Ireland was so that they could (a) protect my life, since, according to the FBI, it was under threat by the Irish Republican Army and (b) discover who might have murdered my sister and brother-in-law.

To remind Mr. Cooper, the FBI said it received a threat against my life from the IRA (I never received a threat personally from anyone). FBI agents told me that two informants working for the FBI said I would be killed if I returned to Northern Ireland.

During the murder investigation, FBI agents said they needed the names of people I knew to catch the killer. I asked them what I felt was a logical question: if your own informants know who was allegedly threatening my life, and you believe those are the people who committed the murders, why don’t you just ask your informants who they are? Why ask me to name the hundreds of people I know when you can narrow down the search immediately? No FBI agent ever answered that question to my satisfaction. Frankly, I still don’t get it. The only guesses I can come up with are (a) the informants didn’t exist, or (b) the FBI was more interested in finding out names of people I know than finding my sister’s killer. (In the end, the FBI didn’t find him; it took a 17-year-old high school friend of the murderer to turn him in.)

Finally, I must point out the irony of Mr. Cooper’s suggestion that on the day Mr. Conroy’s article about me appeared, my “friends in London” planted a bomb which killed several people. The truth is that days before that bomb, about which I read later, exploded, I was in London attending a human-rights conference at which I spoke. Other speakers included representatives from Amnesty International, Helsinki Watch, Princeton University and Britain’s National Council for Civil Liberties. I had dinner with Gerry Conlon, who was one of four innocent people wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years for a bombing in England which he did not commit. The British government admitted as much and released him and his codefendants. Mr. Conlon’s tragedy was compounded by the fact that his father, also a codefendant, died in prison, an innocent man. We talked about the bombings in England and agreed that we both deplored them, not only because of the loss of innocent life, but also because they made it possible for the British government to talk only about IRA violence and not about its own. How Mr. Cooper dares to presume to call the people who planted that bomb my “friends” is beyond me.

Jeanne E. Bishop

E. Chestnut