Paging Prof. Torture


Has anyone heard from Alan Dershowitz on the Iraqi prisoner abuse issue? Maybe I missed it.

NEXT: Officers' Mess

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  1. Torture, Fascism, My Lai?. bring the troops home, power corrupts, yadda yadda yadda?. I believe Dershowitz argued that torture ought to be regularized, not merely added to the arsenal. In his formulation, it wold have taken a Court Order to implement torture. I believe he also would have had limits on permissible means of coercion?Much akin to the issuance of search warrants. Yes, the government can tap your ‘phone and search your hard drive, the search warrant regularizes that process and sets bounds. So, too, he argued would court-ordered torture. I know on this board the State is the Enemy of all that is good, but it does have that power and that right, and Mr. Dershowitz was merely transferring one concept to another realm.

    So, Dershowitz would have condemned the Iraqi prison practices, because they served no useful purpose, had no justification, and were merely freelance hi-jinks with a tremendous downside.

    Now I’m not too keen on Dershowitz’s idea, but let’s at least try to get his idea straight before we start trashing someone.

  2. Well, here’s a link to a brief CNN debate between Dershowitz and Kenneth Roth on the question:

    In another interview, Dershowitz says:

    Well, I don’t myself approve of torture. But I am arguing that every democracy ? the Netherlands, England, France, Germany, every democracy, the US, Israel ? will engage in torture, and my requirement would be that if you are going to do it, you have to give advance approval, you have to show the justification, you have to explain the sources of your information, you have show it’s the last resort, and you have to allow the judge to impose limits on what you’re allowed to do. For instance, in Jordan, they torture the relatives of terrorists; we would not permit that in a democratic country under any circumstances, the torturing of innocent relatives. But a guilty terrorist, being subjected to painful but non-permanent injury, might be permitted. These are the kinds of distinctions and limitations that civilised society ought to be discussing.” (my emphasis)

    I wish Dershowitz would say that highlighted sentence LOUDER. All his hypotheticals seem to lighten its force.

  3. Why would you link to that moonbat piece of crap article? Instant discreditation.

    Oh and this, “His partisan and fundamental support for Israel, however, discredits his own views on terrorism.” stinks to high heaven.

  4. Even if Dershowitz actually did approve of torture (presumably for information-extraction purposes only), this would be a non-issue. The prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib served no strategic purpose and was done without the knowledge of military leadership; grouping it along with strategic torture makes no sense. It would be like calling to account someone who advocates corporal punishment for children every time some unfit parent engages in child abuse.

  5. Abuse at Abu Ghraib done “without the knowledge of military leadership?” Please. The record is clear that General Karpinski didn’t know because she didn’t want to know. She’s told the New York Times that members of military intelligence were in and out of the cell block at all hours of the day, and that she had no idea what they were doing in there. Yah right.

  6. The article makes many good telling points, but it is not Dershowitz’s hypocritical defense of the Israeli government that ultimately makes his advocacy of “limited torture” wrong.

    Torture is wrong because it is torture. It runs counter to the very ideals of our republic that uphold the sanctity of individuals and their inalienable rights which led to the prohibition against cruel, and unusual punishment.

    From the article:

    Dershowitz handles the question of state versus non-state terrorism by ignoring the former.

    That is a mistake that is often made by defenders of the Israeli government. Dershowitz is just among the most egregious.

    The evidence is that the primarily use of torture by the Israeli government is for intimidation. When we read that sad and disgusting account of the Israeli military torturing that kid, we should remember that those are our tax dollars at work.

    He (Dershowitz) also publicly stated that Nathan Lewin’s proposal that Israel execute the family members of suicide bombers was “legitimate.”

    Incredible; why would anyone listen to anything this idiot says? Principle means nothing to Dershowitz, he just supports anything that he thinks is good for Israel, with a religious zeal.

    Maybe no one asked him about Abu Ghraib because he has lost so much credibility after his last book, The Case for Israel in which he regurgitated Joan Peters shoddy scholarship from her From Time Immemorial.

    Norman Finkelstein, professor of political science at DePaul University in Chicago, the author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict exposed Dershowitz on this:

    Finkelstein’s critique was a subject of a blog thread here at H&R.

  7. fishfry: We’ll have to wait and see. My instinct tells me that that wasn’t the case.

    Cruel and unusual punishment is a no-go, sure, but what if’s not intended as punishment but as a way to extract information? And what if the recipients are not citizens but enemy combatants? I don’t think you could find anything in the Constitution or the other founding documents that renders military torture illegimate. Surely the “inalienable rights” mentioned don’t belong to everyone in the world, or else any kind of warfare would be impossible.

  8. Yaron: First it starts with foreigners. Then it leads to “enemy combatant” citizens. Then it’s extended to domestic terrorists. Then it’s extended to drug dealers. Then … Well you get the point.

    This, of course, includes quite a few people that aren’t guilty of these crimes as well. Not to mention that torture is highly unreliable. Often, the tortured will tell the torturer what he wants to hear in order to end the pain.

    I don’t want to live in a country that condones torture. I’d rather die than allow us to start down the road that would lead to a normalization of torture.

  9. Even in the extreme circumstances Dershowitz outlines, the doctrine of self-defense would allow for an affirmative defense, to be considered by the jury in the criminal trial, or by the grand jury, or the prosecutor.

    Which is exactly where the burden should be in such a case.

  10. The constitution gives rights against government to “persons” not to citizens. If prisoners have the right against cruel and unusual punishment, yet can still be punished, surely it was intended that all persons have a right against torture.

    Under this barbarity, what would the government owe a person who was tortured, and later found that he/she didn’t reveal anything because they couldn’t possibly since they didn’t know anything?
    A “wrongful torture” suit doesn’t seem like it would quite provide an adequate remedy.

  11. In another interview, Dershowitz says:
    “Well, I don’t myself approve of torture”

    But as the article for the thread observes, he does approve of torture if the Israeli government is doing it.

    I think that Dershowitz is despicable.

  12. Mo betta torture 2 come;

    Being “not too keen on torture myself” is an interesting phrase…not too keen on rape? Not too keen on serial murder? I am not too keen on Latte’s myself. I despise torture, rape and murder…funny how well they all fit in the same sentence, having fit so well together through so many centuries.

    Now comes John Negroponte as Ambassador to Iraq with his connections to the Honduran death squads of 1981-85 to help bring security to Iraq. He knows how to get things done and there will be no pictures on 60 Minutes 2.

  13. Rick,

    I haven’t read the book or the lecture that Youmans is referring to, so I can’t say whether Dershowitz has repudiated that statement I highlighted.

    I say: Mr. Youmans, give us the texts!

    From that CNN minidebate I gave the link for:

    “ROTH: Yes, that’s the ticking-bomb scenario, which everybody loves to put forward as an excuse for torture. Israel tried that. Under the guise of just looking at the narrow exception of where the ticking-bomb is there and you could save the poor schoolchildren whose bus was about to be exploded some place. They ended up torturing on the theory that — well, it may not be the terrorist, but it’s somebody who knows the terrorist or it’s somebody who might have information leading to the terrorist.

    They ended up torturing say 90 percent of the Palestinian security detainees they had until finally the Israeli supreme court had to say this kind of rare exception isn’t working. It’s an exception that’s destroying the rule. We have to understand the United States sets a model for the rest of the world. And if the United States is going to authorize torture in any sense, you can imagine that there are many more unsavory regimes out there that are just dying for the chance to say, “Well, the U.S. is doing it, we’re going to start doing it as well.”

    DERSHOWITZ: And I think that we’re much, much better off admitting what we’re doing or not doing it at all. I agree with you, it will much better if we never did it. But if we’re going to do it and subcontract and find ways of circumventing, it’s much better to do what Israel did. They were the only country in the world ever directly to confront the issue, and it led to a supreme court decision, as you say, outlawing torture, and yet Israel has been criticized all over the world for confronting the issue directly. Candor and accountability in a democracy is very important. Hypocrisy has no place.” (my emphasis)

    Again, Dershowitz needs to SHOUT that highlighted phrase. Otherwise, his readers will take all his theorizing as an apologia for torture.

  14. “The means of security can only be regulated by the means and the danger of attack. They will, in fact, be ever determined by these rules and by no others. It is in vain to oppose constitutional barriers to the impulse of self-preservation. It is worse than in vain; because it plants in the Constitution itself necessary usurpations of power, every precedent of which is a germ of unnecessary and multiplied repetitions.” – James Madison, Federalist #41

  15. Fred,

    For one who loves liberty, it would be negligent not to challenge Dershowitz’s dangerous nonsense and his tangible hypocrisy visa vie the outrages of the Israeli government.

    “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home”
    James Madison

  16. Dershowitz introduced a long-needed, serious discussion of the use of torture in the West. His words seem more prescient now than ever, even if hypocrites like Rick Barton can’t bother to try to understand them.

  17. David,

    If you can ever get Dershowitz to repudiate the torture that the Israeli government employs, I will be amazed.

  18. Well, I never said Dershowitz wasn’t inconsistent in the things he’s said. I just pointed out that he’s said the things I highlighted.

    About Israel and torture, Dershowitz has said:

    “Several attacks were prevented by this unpleasant tactic. In a courageous and controversial decision, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court wrote a majority opinion banning the use of this tactic against suspected terrorists.

    The Israeli Supreme Court left open the possibility, however, that in an actual “ticking bomb” case — a situation in which a terrorist refused to divulge information necessary to defuse a bomb that was about to kill hundreds of innocent civilians — an agent who employed physical pressure could defend himself against criminal charges by invoking “the law of necessity.”

    There’s also a recent book, “Why Terrorism Works”–see chapter four:

    The case of Israel is discussed on pages 134, 139?142, 150.

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