America's Great Liberal On Torture

On November 7 Alan Dershowitz--the epitome of a civil liberties loving liberal, in the eyes of many--wrote a WSJ column on "Democrats and Waterboarding" (page A23). A reader took issue and wrote a Letter to the Editor complaining, and on November 14 Dershowitz replied (in the Letters section), writing:

Douglas A. Johnson premises his letter to the editor on Nov. 12 on the factual assertion that I am "passionately promoting the use of torture." Did he not even bother to read the column to which he was responding in which I stated unequivocally that "I am personally opposed to the use of torture." [sic on punctuation--Bob] This assertion runs through all of my writing about torture. Being the head of a do-gooder organization does not give one a license to make up the facts.
Cambridge, Mass.

Wow, them are some strong words. Let me take some excerpts from the original WSJ piece--a forum not known for its hostility to aggressive interrogation techniques, mind you--to shed some light for the perplexed Dershowitz:

==> Most Americans...want a president who will be strong, as well as smart, on national security, and who will do everything in his or her lawful power to prevent further acts of terrorism.

==> Hundreds of thousands of Americans may watch Michael Moore's movies or cheer Cindy Sheehan's demonstrations, but tens of millions want the Moores and Sheehans of our nation as far away as possible from influencing national security policy.

==> I am not suggesting that Democratic candidates seek to emulate Mr. Giuliani. But they cannot ignore his tough stance on national security if they want to succeed in the 2008 election...

==> I am not now talking about the routine use of torture in interrogation of suspects or the humiliating misuse of sexual taunting that infamously occurred at Abu Ghraib. I am talking about that rare situation described by former President Clinton in an interview with National Public Radio...

==> Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture, I have no doubt that any president--indeed any leader of a democratic nation--would in fact authorize some forms of torture against a captured terrorist if he believed that this was the only way of securing information necessary to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack.

==> There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

==> Michael absolutely correct, as a matter of constitutional law, that the issue of "waterboarding" cannot be decided in the abstract. Under prevailing precedents--some of which I disagree with--the court must examine the nature of the governmental interest at stake, and the degree to which the government actions at issue shock the conscience, and then decide on a case-by-case basis. In several cases involving actions at least as severe as waterboarding, courts have found no violations of due process.

==> The members of the judiciary committee who voted against Judge Mukasey, because of his unwillingness to support an absolute prohibition on waterboarding and all other forms of torture, should be asked the direct question: Would you authorize the use of waterboarding, or other non-lethal forms of torture, if you believed that it was the only possible way of saving the lives of hundreds of Americans in a situation of the kind faced by Israeli authorities on the eve of Yom Kippur?... If not, would you be prepared to accept responsibility for the preventable deaths of hundreds of Americans?

I think the above quotes make it clear why Johnson "misunderstood" Dershowitz. Apparently Dershowitz is personally opposed to the use of torture, but hopes that people in government who can actually order torture don't share his impractical moral scruples.


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