No advocate of 'terrorist torture'

November 1, 2002

No word other than dishonest can be used to describe Brendan O'Leary's mendacious characterisation of my book Why Terrorism Works (Books, THES , October 4).

Read this paragraph: "There follows a discussion of repressive options, in which he makes outrageous suggestions, from which he withdraws after he thinks he has stretched the limits of the reasonable. Total control of the media, monitoring all communications, criminalising advocacy, restricting freedom of movement, collective punishment, targeted assassinations, pre-emptive attacks, massive retaliation, secret military trials and torturing suspects (an entire chapter) are considered seriatim."

What he does not tell the reader is that this paragraph appears in a chapter titled "How an amoral society could fight terrorism".

I explain that Hitler, Stalin and Mao could use such tactics because they were not constrained by morality or legality and argue that these options are not available to a civilised society governed by the rule of law. You would never know that reading O'Leary's review.

Nor would you know that I oppose rather than favour the torturing of terrorists. I argue that if we ever had a ticking-bomb case, torture would be used, and that if it were to be used, it would be far worse for this to be done beneath the radar screen and without accountability than for it to be done openly and with political accountability. That is very different from his claim that I support terrorism.

Another of O'Leary's deceits, this one tinged with a bit of ethnic stereotyping - if not bigotry - is that he calls me a "neo-conservative", suggesting that because I am a Jew who supports Israel, I must fall into that camp. Of course, I am nothing of the sort. I am a liberal Democrat who opposes and constantly attacks American neo-conservativism, and especially its founder, Norman Podhoretz. I am often at odds with US foreign policy, and I support the domestic agenda of public figures such as Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank, both of whom are also strong supporters of Israel and oppose the neo-conservative agenda. But O'Leary seems not to be concerned with facts.

O'Leary doesn't like me because I generally support Israel, but his dislike does not give him a licence to lie.

Alan Dershowitz
Professor of law
Harvard Law School

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