Dershowitz and the Ticking Time-Bomb


America, don’t worry. Alan Dershowitz is on your side. He’s back on the idiot tube circuit talking about our options in this interminable war on terrorism.

If Khalid Shaikh Mohammed won’t talk, says the respected lawyer, our guys need to violate the Geneva Accords and jam a “sterilized needle” under his fingernails. Sterilized, of course, because we don’t want him to get an infection. Now that would be inhumane. As for the Geneva Accords, “countries all over the world violate” them, so what’s the big deal?

This torture thing, Dershowitz told Wolf Blizter the other day, it should be done “with accountability,” it needs to be done “openly” so we don’t “adopt the way of the hypocrite.” Maybe they can do it on Blizter’s show, on CNN’s dime? Get Walter Isaacson to cut for the needles and sterilization kits.

Imagine of the ratings. It’d put Joe Millionaire to shame.

As a lawyer, Dershowitz knows about this kind of stuff. For instance, he proposes “a torture warrant, which puts a heavy burden on the government to demonstrate by factual evidence the necessity to administer this horrible, horrible technique of torture.” So, I take it al-Qaeda evildoers will be tortured after they get their day in court? Of course, that may take years. If anybody knows how long the legal process takes, it’s Alan Dershowitz.

No, I imagine this “torture warrant” would need be based on circumstantial evidence. Like that bin Laden tape the experts found to be a fake. Or maybe Bush can base the evidence on the word of some poor schmuck in an orange jumper and blacked out goggles at Gitmo. Some people will say anything to get a good night’s sleep.

Dersh’s against “subcontracting” our torture work out — to say Jordan, the Philippines, or Egypt. If magnetos need to be attached to the testicles of al-Qaeda operatives, it’s best we do it ourselves lest we become hypocrites. Apparently it is better to be a sadist than a hypocrite.

“Candor and accountability in a democracy is very important,” asserts the Harvard Law School professor and author of “Chutzpah,” a book determined to minimize the plight of Palestinian refugees, many who have experienced torture personally.

If candor and accountability were important to the people who make such decisions, there would have been an immediate and public investigation into 911. Dick Cheney would have told us all about his Energy Task Force. Bush wouldn’t be locking away some 68,000 pages of discussions between Reagan and his advisers. Ashcroft wouldn’t be trashing the Freedom of Information Act. If “candor and accountability in a democracy” meant anything to our unelected president and his cabal of co-conspirators he wouldn’t be refusing to release the names of people arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Department of Justice. He wouldn’t be talking about military tribunals for “battlefield detainees” held at the naval base at Gitmo.

The problem with Dersh is he likes to be on TV too much.

We need to be more like Israel, says Dershowitz. “They were the only country in the world ever directly to confront the issue, and it led to a supreme court decision… outlawing torture, and yet Israel has been criticized all over the world for confronting the issue directly.”

In 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court ruled Shin Bet’s use of “moderate physical pressure” on suspects under interrogation to be illegal. These “moderate” techniques included violently shaking prisoners, depriving them of sleep, exposing them to loud music, tying them into painful positions for long periods, and covering their heads in foul-smelling sacks.

Of course, this kind of torture is likely preferable to summary execution. Shin Bet agent Danny Yatom knows all about summary execution. He personally crushed the skulls of two Palestinian detainees with a large rock after they were arrested for a failed attempt to hijack an Israeli settler bus at the Deir El Balah Junction in the Gaza Strip. Yatom did such a good job Sharon appointed him as “Head of Counter Terrorism.”

The above mentioned torture methods became institutionalized in 1987 when the Landau commission justified the “ticking time-bomb” scenario — if Shin Bet and the IDF had reason to believe a suspect held information that may prevent a terrorist attack, “moderate physical pressure” could be used. Obviously, large rocks are out of the question.

But the cops and military types in Israel had a Mack truck-sized back door inserted in the Israeli Supreme Court ruling — torture’s permissible if evidence of an impending threat to civilian lives is discovered. Naturally, Shin Bet makes the call. “I am sure that GSS will find new methods,” commented Gideon Ezra, former Shin Bet official and member of the Knessett. “Maybe they will find a chair that is a little higher.”

Obviously, Dershowitz looks to Israel for his cues.

The savage dust of 911 had hardly settled when the civil libertarian Dershowitz went before a dense crowd at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur, Missouri, and told the gathered that terrorist acts should make civil rights activists readjust their thinking on certain issues. “Torture would only be used under court-issued warrants, which we already use for searches and arrests,” Dershowitz told the crowd. “Society needs to be protected from immigrants and other undesirables.”

On November 8 2001, in Los Angeles Times editorial (“Is There a Torturous Road to Justice?”) the Dersh said, “Any interrogation technique, including the use of truth serum or even torture, is not prohibited. All that is prohibited is the introduction into evidence of the fruits of such techniques in a criminal trial against the person on whom the techniques were used.”

In other words, it’s okay to shove needles under the fingernails of a terror suspect if the confession extracted is not used against him.

So much for Dersh’s badge as a civil libertarian.

So much for the Fourth Geneva Convention. So much for the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, treaties the US signed.

“If anybody had the ability to prevent the events of Sept. 11,” Alan Dershowitz told CBS’ Mike Wallace last year, “they would have gone to whatever lengthThe problem becomes, where do we draw that line?”

Maybe the esteemed lawyer should take counsel in the conclusions of the Defense Science Board if he’s sincerely interested where the line should be drawn:

“Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. In addition, the military asymmetry that denies nation states the ability to engage in overt attacks against the United States drives the use of transnational actors [that is, terrorists from one country attacking in another].”

Or, as Chalmers Johnson explains:

“One man’s terrorist is … another man’s freedom fighter, and what U.S. officials denounce as unprovoked terrorist attacks on its innocent citizens are often meant as retaliation for previous American imperial actions. Terrorists attack innocent and undefended American targets precisely because American soldiers and sailors firing cruise missiles from ships at sea or sitting in B-52 bombers at extremely high altitudes or supporting brutal and repressive regimes from Washington seem invulnerable.”

In other words, if you don’t want to be a victim of terrorism, don’t kill people. Don’t use CIA, FBI, and Army Special Forces “take-down teams” on detainees. Don’t support governments that amputate limbs for disobedience. Or those who torture and shoot children for throwing stones.

Shoving “sterilized” needles under the fingernails of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will not put an end to terrorism. In fact, it will not prevent one single terrorist act — not in America or anywhere else.

Ask Israel if its Khiam torture prison in southern Lebanon put an end to Hezbollah rocket attacks. Or if more than a few of the thousands of prisoners tortured at the Ketziot prison in the Negev desert emerge to become suicide bombers. Ask the Vietnamese if the Phoenix Program put an end to their determination to fight and eventually defeat the US. Ask the Iranians if the Shah’s torture dungeons manned by SAVAK goons prevented the revolution in 1979.

No, Dersh, torture will not end the war on terrorism. It will only demoralize those who call for its implementation. It will put us on par with Shin Bet and the paramilitary thugs in Latin America and Colombia.

But then, I suppose, terrorism is a good business for you. It sells books and packs auditoriums.

It also keeps your face on CNN.

KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent online gallery. He can be reached at:

We highly recommend regular visits to Nimmo’s website, Another Day in the Empire

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KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books. He can be reached at: