Dershowitz's tortured case

November 8, 2002

To be accused of dishonesty, mendaciousness, deceits, stereotyping and bigotry by Alan Dershowitz is a mild form of torture. His letter ( THES , November 1) responds to none of my serious objections to Why Terrorism Works (Books, THES , October 4). These include his assertion that "our European allies made September 11 inevitable" and his advice to ignore the causes of terrorism.

The review argued that his book exploits the aftermath of the September 11 massacres and tries to soften us up for hardline policies. The passage he cites from it gives sub-headings in a chapter titled "How an amoral society could fight terrorism" and glosses the chapter that follows. True, I did not name the chapter. But the sub-headings are indicative of what an amoral society would endorse, not fight.

Dershowitz seems to use headings and sub-headings to appeal to different audiences. His chapter on torture has a sub-heading "The case for torturing the ticking bomb terrorist". There is no sub-heading for arguments against.

Under "How I began to think about torture", he writes that he originated a "controversial proposal" about a torture warrant. This does not compromise civil liberties but rather maximises them, he claims, "in the face of the realistic likelihood that torture would, in fact, take place". No liberal would agree.

I never wrote that Dershowitz supports terrorism, just that he appears to admire many who have considered and implemented counter-terrorism. It is a lawyer's trick to say that he opposes all torture but to add in long parentheses that if it 'twere done, 'twere better done his way, with a needle in the fingertips and with judicial oversight.

Dershowitz dislikes the neo-conservative label. US neo-conservatives are usually uncritical supporters of Israeli policies towards Palestinian resistance. Dershowitz fits this description. His arguments abandon liberalism's fundamentalism about civil liberties, especially when it matters. Links with the Democratic Party do not immunise one from neo-conservatism.

Dershowitz complains that I dislike him because he "generally supports" Israel and that I stereotype him. Not so. I have formed my appraisal of his views, rather than of him as a person, from his book, his letter and limited research on his public statements. As for Israel: I oppose its policies towards Palestinians, inside and outside its 1967 borders, and I believe it needs friends with better arguments and manners.

Brendan O'Leary
University of Pennsylvania

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