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RJ Eskow

RJ Eskow

Posted: July 12, 2006 12:03 PM

Guess What? Alan Dershowitz Thinks You're a Bigot!


Alan Dershowitz advocates the use of torture, and he calls me a "bigot" for saying so. Granted, Dershowitz hands out accusations of bigotry like a clown hands out balloons at a birthday party. But I still take offense, and so should you. His arguments should not be given credibility until he drops the posturing and defends his position honestly.

Just read his latest piece in the Huffington Post. He claims in it that he opposes torture - by linking to an interview in which he advocates for it! Be forewarned: Unless you're willing to ignore your "lying" eyes, you'll be a "Dershowitz bigot" too.

I should note that he doesn't accuse me personally of bigotry. Instead, he uses the term "pre-emptively" against all who might disagree. (Why is that not surprising?) It's offensive, but Mr. Dershowitz appears to have no other line of defense for his "tortured logic."

Honestly! If it weren't for that Harvard pedigree and his past history of achievement, Dershowitz's rhetorical tactics would mark him as a nothing more than a bully with a weak argument.

Here's his Alice-Through-The-Looking Glass moment, the one where he denies he supports torture even while he's doing it. He writes:

"Any post relating to Israel will provoke some of the worst anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bigots to crawl out from under their rocks. (Note: That's the cynical algebra he and his ilk use to silence opponents: disagreeing with the Israeli hard right equals opposing Israel, which equals anti-Semitism.)

It will also provoke other bigots to accuse me of supporting torture--something I adamantly oppose and am seeking to prevent as seen here."

But if you follow the link (to a NPR article and interview), what do you find written there?

Dershowitz says the government should acknowledge that it tortures suspects, and create rules for how torture is carried out. That would create "visibility and accountability. And that's what we lack today," he says.

What types of torture should be permitted?

"That's exactly what has to be debated," he says. "It's a very unpleasant debate."

Is that the "adamant opposition" Dershowitz claimed? Hardly.

It's not complicated: Dershowitz thinks torture should be "permitted," and that the type and nature of torture Americans should conduct should be "debated." Torture should be acknowledged and legitimized, a legal structure should be created to make it possible, and it should be done with "visibility and accountability."

"That's not opposing torture," you answer reasonably. "That's endorsement of it, together with some suggested rules for implementation."

To which Mr. Dershowitz replies: "Bigot!"

Is that the level of discourse they teach at Harvard Law? Of course not. But it intimidates a surprising number of people from acknowledging the obvious: That Mr. Dershowitz is advocating a policy that's immoral, ineffective, and profoundly un-American. (More on the topic here.)

He never seems to answer his critics directly, calmly, and openly. Apparently, he can't.

To be fair, Dershowitz makes a valid point about the international community's differing responses to targeted killings by Israel vs. those conducted by other countries. It might, however, be more accurate to say there is no clearly articulated position on when targeted killing is (or should be) acceptable.

Unfortunately, Dershowitz gets his facts wrong there, too. "The world" in general did not, in fact, initially condemn Israel for its assassination policies in the wake of Black September. The opposition to its actions now may stem more the frequency with which it uses this tactic, and the targets it chooses. But it is reasonable to raise the issue.

"Raising the issue" is not enough for Dershowitz, especially when it comes to his advocacy for torture. He hopes to harangue his critics into silence with the "bigotry" label - despite the fact, where torture is concerned, those critics are defending our civilized values. And it's worked for years.

Dershowitz is not without a flair for the theatrical. He'll strike a martyr's pose "pre-emptively," too. After smearing his anticipated opponents with the "bigot" charge, he concludes: "But I will not remain silent in the face of this anticipated bigotry."

That's not surprising. Remaining silent does not appear to be in Mr. Dershowitz's nature, even when it would be in his best interests - and the country's. He has yet to respond articulately to the many well-stated critiques of his pro-torture stance, and there's no reason to expect he will now.

If he wants to debate his position on torture honestly and openly, he should do so. Otherwise, people should stop paying attention to him until he's prepared to defend his position reasonably, without using the tactics of a demagogue.



A Night Light

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