Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Neocon Chutzpah

Are these the sort of men we need advising the White House?

June 2004 Signs of the Times

The Pinochet Principle: Bush Defends Torture in the Name of National Security
Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

The administration has come under fire from human rights groups and military lawyers in recent days for concluding two years ago that it could ignore international and domestic laws and allow US soldiers to torture detainees.

A series of leaked memos published in the press this week outline how lawyers for the administration determined U.S. soldiers could torture detainees during interrogations by claiming it was in the interest of national security. The memos indicate that lawyers from the Defense and Justice departments as well as the White House and Vice President's office backed the policy changes.

During three hours of testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to provide copies of the memos in a session marked by several sharp exchanges. During the hearing Ashcroft came under questioning from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

KENNEDY: In the front page of the Times, it has this quote, "A team of administration lawyers concluded in a March 2000 legal memorandum, President Bush was not bound either by international treaty prohibiting torture or by federal anti-torture law because he has the authority as commander in chief to approve any techniques needed to protect the nation's security." Do you agree with that conclusion?

ASHCROFT: Senator Kennedy, I'm not going to try and issue hypothetical...

KENNEDY: I'm not asking hypothetical. This is a memoranda that, again, was referred to today in the Post. "August 2002, Justice Department advised the White House that torturing Al Qaida terrorists in captivity abroad may be justified and that international laws against torture may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations." Do you agree with that?

ASHCROFT: I am not -- first of all, this administration rejects torture.

KENNEDY: I'm asking you whether this is -- these are -- there are three memoranda, January 9, 2002, signed by John Yo (ph), the August 2002 Justice Department, the (inaudible) amendment memo and the March 2000 -- the interagency working group. Those are three memoranda. Will you provide those to the committee?

ASHCROFT: No, I will not.

In July 2002, just one month before the August memo referred to by Kennedy, the U.S. had opposed a United Nations draft international treaty against torture that had taken a decade to negotiate and would have set up an international system of inspections for all sites where prisoners were held, to insure that torture was not taking place. Kennedy yesterday continued to press Ashcroft to release the memo when Delaware Senator yielded the floor to him:

KENNEDY: Just, General, has the president authorized you to invoke the executive privilege today on these documents?

ASHCROFT: I am not going to reveal discussions, whether I've had them or not had them, with the president. He asked me to deal with him as a matter of confidence. I have not invoked executive privilege today. I have explained to you why I'm not turning over the documents.

KENNEDY: Well, what are you invoking?

ASHCROFT: I have not invoked anything. I have just explained to you why I'm not turning over the documents.

BIDEN: Thank you very much. Well, General, that means you may be in contempt of Congress then. You got to have a reason not to answer our questions, as you know from you sitting up here. There may be a rationale for executive privilege that misses the point, but, you know, you have to have a reason. You are not allowed, under our Constitution, not to answer our questions, and that ain't constitutional.

Alan Dershowitz, Professor of Torture

June 9, 2004

"THE GENEVA Conventions are so outdated and are written so broadly that they have become a sword used by terrorists to kill civilians, rather than a shield to protect civilians from terrorists. These international laws have become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution."

This is the opening passage of Alan Dershowitz's attack on the Geneva Conventions. It sets the tone for a polemic that savages our continued commitment to the humane treatment of prisoners and endorses "varying forms of rough interrogation".

The essay, "The Rules of War Enable Terror", employs the Harvard professor's rhetorical skills to undermine the legal barriers that restrict the use of torture. It is a assault on the fundamental principles of human decency.

This is no exaggeration; Dershowitz is quite forceful in articulating his belief that treating people with dignity and humanity is anathema to the goals of the war on terror.

"The time has come to revisit the laws of war and to make them relevant to new realities," Dershowitz insists.

But what changes in the law does Dershowitz have in mind?

"The treaties against all forms of torture must begin to recognize differences in degree among varying forms of rough interrogation, ranging from trickery and humiliation, on the one hand, to lethal torture on the other. They must also recognize that any country faced with a ticking-time-bomb terrorist would resort to some forms of interrogation that are today prohibited by the treaty."[.....]
In Dershowitz's world, these constitutional protections are not only provisional, but subordinate to national security; the loftiest goal of all. It is a breathtaking departure from our professed commitment to human rights, and particularly surprising coming from an "officer of the court."

But, it is not merely torture that Dershowitz advocates, but murder; "premeditated", state sponsored murder.
"Democracies must be legally empowered to attack terrorists who hide among civilians, so long as proportional force is employed. Civilians who are killed while being used as human shields by terrorists must be deemed the victims of the terrorists who have chosen to hide among them, rather than those of the democracies who may have fired the fatal shot."
There are enormous gaps in Dershowitz's reasoning, the most prominent of which is his careless manner of excusing the killing of innocent civilians to achieve the objectives of the state. What Dershowitz blithely refers to as "proportional force" is in reality the "scattershot" justice practiced by Israel in their targeted assassination campaign. This is a policy that is so detestable, so utterly racist (it is impossible to imagine that Israel would ever fire missals into populated areas in Tel Aviv to dispatch an "alleged" terrorist; only in the enclaves of the "untermenschen") that it eschews any conceivable moral justification.

It is murder, plain and simple. [. . . .]

Bothe of these articles can be read at the Signs of the Times page.

A man of his convictions? At least Dershowitz is consistent. From today's Signs Page:

The Case Against Alan Dershowitz: Dershowitz vs. Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
- by Regan Boychuk

Alan Dershowitz is a well-known lawyer and professor at Harvard law school, a prolific author, and makes regular appearances in the media. When it comes to Israel, he is particularly outspoken and taken quite seriously within certain segments of the North American mainstream. Whether he deserves to be taken seriously is another issue altogether. In a recent talk at York University in Toronto, Canada, Professor Dershowitz repeated many of the controversial claims of his recent book,[1] but one struck me as -- even by his standard -- exceptionally far-reaching. In the course of arguing that Israeli authorities no longer torture Palestinians, Dershowitz claimed he had a long conversation with the Israeli human rights organization, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), in which PCATI not only conceded that there was no longer any torture for them to investigate, but that they refused to change their name because it helped them attract media attention.[2]

Although organizers of his lecture wore shirts arrogantly proclaiming, "Dersh knows more than you"I decided to check his claim. First, I visited PCATI's website ( and immediately found its July 2003 report containing 48 affidavits testifying to the continued use of torture against Palestinians by Israeli authorities. More than three years after Professor Dershowitz claims torture had stopped, PCATI reported: "Each month, the ill-treatment reaching the level of torture as defined in international law is inflicted in dozens of cases, and possibly more. In other words – torture in Israel has once more become routine."[3] And after Professor Dershowitz claims PCATI conceded torture had ended, PCATI was still reporting that "Instances of torture, abuse, prisoners held incommunicado and excessive violence against [Palestinian] detainees continue to grow in both numbers and severity", while "interrogators and perpetrators of torture, their commanders and superiors enjoy impunity."[4]

These reports didn't exactly corroborate Professor Dershowitz's story so, next, I contacted PCATI to confirm his allegation. "Dershowitz's claim that he had long conversations with PCATI and that we reported that there is no longer any torture in Israel," I was told by PCATI’s Orah Maggen, "is totally false."

We never met with him or spoke with him directly. I did meet him at the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] when he spoke at the Law and Constitution Committee [but] I, and representatives of other human rights NGOs challenged most of what he said about torture, the role of human rights NGOs and other issues.”

When I reported PCATI's denial to Professor Dershowitz, he replied: "During my conversation at the Knesset I asked the representative of the committee [Orah Maggen] why they kept their name, despite their acknowledgement that torture was no longer a significant issue? She responded -- I remember clear as day -- as follows: 'You have no idea how difficult it is to get attention to any human rights issues in this country. Maintaining our organizational name, with the word torture, is essential to getting needed attention.' I had an extensive argument with her about that tactic, focusing especially on the international implications and the misleading nature of the name outside of the country. I am certain she remembers the conversation because it was quite heated. It also took place in front of numerous witnesses."

When I emailed PCATI Dershowitz's "clear as day" recollection, Ms. Maggen replied that it is true that there was a heated exchange with others present, but "All other statements made by Professor Dershowitz are blatantly false and utterly preposterous... Neither I nor any other representative of PCATI acknowledged, claimed or in any way stated that torture is no longer a significant issue. On the contrary, it is our claim that the systematic and large-scale torture and ill treatment of Palestinian detainees and prisoners continues to this day." She further stated that, "Neither I nor any other representative of PCATI ever stated that we kept our name to 'get attention' for any reason whatsoever. Considering the fact that torture is still widespread and that PCATI has its hands full struggling against the torture and ill treatment of Palestinian detainees (and others) by Israeli authorities, the claim regarding statements we supposedly made about our organization's name is totally absurd." Finally, she concluded that Dershowitz's claim was "shocking in its audacity."
In fact, however, it is on par with Dershowitz's claim in The Case for Israel, that the Israeli government has a "generally superb record on human rights," and that "Israel’s record on human rights is among the best in the world".[5]

What's "clear as day" from this little episode is that Dershowitz's every word should be taken with a mountain of salt.

*Regan Boychuk is a graduate student in political science at York University in Toronto, Canada and gets irritated when people get away with lies.


[1] Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003).

[2] Alan Dershowitz, public lecture at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 14 March 2005.

[3] Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, "Back to a routine of torture: Torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees during arrest, detention, and interrogation", July 2003, p. 11, .

[4] Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, "Preventing torture: Legal advocacy, legislative activism & public outreach: A narrative report", [Draft] 2004, p. 1.

[5] Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, pp. 204, 199. Despite Dershowitz's fervent attempts to prevent its publication, readers can soon find what promises to be a thorough debunking of The Case for Israel in Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (Berkeley, CA: University of California, June 2005).

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