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Soviet law comes of age

I have been giving careful thought to Arthur J. Goldberg's column ``The Soviets and the rule of law,'' Nov. 19. Mr. Goldberg makes several points that detract from a clear understanding of the Soviet legal system. The comparison of Daniloff's treatment in a Soviet prison and Sakharov's treatment in a US prison is probably accurate; nevertheless, the legal systems differ. In general, normal, humane prison operations exist in the Soviet Union for nonpolitical prisoners. The United States has its own horror stories, including those of juvenile prisons as described in the Monitor several years ago.

The comment on the predetermination of judgment and sentence in political cases is accurate but could be misleading if the reader fails to note the qualifying adjective ``political.'' In nonpolitical cases, the predetermination element is far less and, if one takes into account the period prior to the pretrial investigations, is generally not the rule.

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The notion that ``the totalitarian regime in the Soviet Union could not exist if the rule of law prevailed'' reduces complex terms, totalitarianism, rule of law, and the legal system, to a simplistic, inaccurate description. A dictatorial political system may well use many regular procedures of law to provide stability.

Mr. Goldberg's punch line that it would be naive to expect that the Soviet Union will mend its ways runs counter to the developments in the Soviet legal system after Stalin.

The writings of scholars such as Harold Berman, John Hazaard, and Robert Sharlet testify to the often successful efforts of lawyers in the Soviet Union to move the system to a more regular, due-process-oriented system. Even in the realm of political offenses, the arbitrariness is less than previously, albeit still strongly under political control. Gary Maris Prof. of Pol. Science Stetson Univ. DeLand, Fla.

Cake Decorating 101 Many articles on education that have appeared in the Monitor over the past few months have made negative references to the ``back-to-the-basics'' concept.

The past couple of decades has seen a growth in junk electives. Our local high school recently proposed reducing class time in all courses by about 20 percent. Thus less history, writing, math, etc. New electives were proposed to fill the surplus hours.

One proposed course was cake decorating.

Yet, studies show an increasing level of illiteracy among high school graduates.

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One could understand the community pushing for frivolous classes, and educators holding out for the basics.

Oddly enough, however, the positions are reversed. Dennis Backues Albany, Ore.

Aid Khmer Rouge? The subtitle of Robert Karniol's article, ``With the Cambodian resistance,'' Dec. 1, explicitly states that ``Cambodia's Khmer Rouge are known for their brutality, secretiveness, and suspicion.'' The Khmer Rouge, Mr. Karniol writes, brutally murdered 2 million people because of their nonconformity, their educational and cultural background, and their steadfast approach to Buddhist traditions.

The Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot, have launched a public relations campaign to gain international aid.

Are we to assume that they have changed their ways? Do they deserve another opportunity to govern? D.J. Masi Cromwell, Conn.

They're ahead! Stansfield Turner's column ``Soviet veto over SDI: it's called the `shootdown,''' Nov. 13, sounds like a prescription for defeat, capitulation to the Soviets, or a declaration of war.

America is continually urged to remain defenseless against the possibilities of Soviet nuclear aggression, yet there is substantial evidence that the Soviet Union already outpaces America in space weaponry and its own strategic defense initiative.

The radar near Krasnoyarsk, which is in violation of the ABM Treaty, is operational. Civil defense in Russia is far in advance of a nearly nonexistent program in the US. And Russia continues its own space program of antisatellite weapons that have already proved to be effective. Kenneth C. Lane Puyallup, Wash.

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