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Letter to the Editor

October 30, 2006

To the Editor:

On average, CounterPunch.org
publishes an article every two or three months devoted to slandering
me. Indeed, it seems that Alexander Cockburn will publish anything,
so long it purports to expose me as a false liberal who, deep
down, actually supports torture/racism/assassination/collective
punishment/genocide/Nazi war tactics/kicking puppy dogs/parking
in handicapped spaces. The running joke is my office is: What
will CounterPunch accuse me of next, and why is it taking so
long?

This month’s offering didn’t
disappoint. Here, Bruce Jackson grouped with John Yoo as a co-father
of American torture (“Normalizing
Torture
” (10/30/2006). That’s an odd coupling, considering
that John Yoo and I are ideological opponents, and just last
month he critiqued my latest book in the Clarement Review of
Books for being, essentially, too liberal. It’s also strange,
given that I oppose torture, and that I advanced mechanism of
accountability and transparency with the express purpose of curtailing
torture. One would think that an article claiming that I support
torture might at least mention that well I don’t (according
to everything I’ve ever written or said on the topic).

But this is all par for the
course at CounterPunch. The reason I am writing in response
to Jackson’s article is to point out that Jackson has a long-standing
grudge against me. Twenty-one years ago, I wrote a scathing
critique of one of Jackson’s books in the New York Times Sunday
Book Review
. The book, like this most recent article article,
was full of errors and omissions, directed more at scoring ideological
points than at honestly addressing and advancing the discussion
over law enforcement techniques. Jackson complained bitterly
that I hadn’t disclosed my involvement in one of the books that
he had mentioned in his own book. How ironic, then, that he
fails to mention in this article his own history of antagonism
toward me.

While identifying falsehoods
in CounterPunch.org is a daunting and pointless endeavor, best
likened to counting grains of sand on the beach, I thought I
should at least point out the motivation behind Jackson’s deception.

Sincerely,

Alan Dershowitz

Bruce Jackson
responds…

Alan Dershowitz should, after
all this time, have learned to differentiate between articles
that criticize his work and articles that slander him.

“Slander” is a term
in law. If Dershowitz thinks Alex Cockburn or I have slandered
him, he has recourse in law to deal with that. But if he disagrees
with what either of us has written about his work, he should
say so in ways that permit us to respond in equal fashion rather
than clouding the issue with bullying legalistic foolishness.

So far as I can tell, the only
slander in any of this is the second sentence in the first paragraph
of Dershowitz’s letter to Counterpunch about my article on his
advocacy of proper torture. Not one of us Counterpunchers has
ever accused him of kicking puppy dogs or parking in handicapped
spaces. We haven’t done it. I checked. He may do such things,
but none of us has ever called him on it.

I’m not a trial lawyer, so
maybe what he said there wasn’t slander but just something nasty
or snide or cute. Alan Dershowitz isn’t a trial lawyer either,
but he has obviously learned the ploy trial lawyers embrace more
than any other when the facts are not on their side: attack the
witness rather than what the witness said. Nothing in his response
to my Counterpunch essay on torture addresses a single thing
I wrote about his torture work. His response is entirely ad
hominem
, and for good reason. What I said about his torture
work was true. Everything I said was based on things he wrote
or said in public interviews. Calling me names doesn’t make his
own words and my quoting of them go away, but with what else
can he defend himself?

Furthermore, his memory is
bad, or selective. His review of my 1985 book Law and Disorder:
Criminal Justice in America
wasn’t the least bit “scathing.”
Self-serving, defensive, unfair and unbalanced-yes. But “scathing”-no.
His review said little or nothing about the factual errors he
now claims he discovered then, nor did it say much about most
of the book. Rather, it centered on two things to the exclusion
of everything else. My primary fault, according to his review,
was my disagreement in a late chapter with a book on sentencing
of which he was coauthor. He didn’t mention in his review that
he was a coauthor of that book, he just faulted me for disagreeing
with it. My secondary failure was that I didn’t say anything
nice about the American criminal justice system.

That’s true: I didn’t. Nor
would I say anything nice about it now. Looking back, I stand
by all of that and apologize for none of it. I still think the
sentencing study of which he was a part was wrong and that the
American criminal justice system was then and remains now a dysfunctional
mess. I also stand by my long response to Dershowitz’s review
of Law and Disorder that the New York Times Sunday Book
Review published a few weeks later. He sent the Times a long
counter-response but they decided it wasn’t publishable and,
so far as I know, it never saw light of day.

He is right that I didn’t mention
his 21-year-old review in my Counterpunch article on torture
and its advocates last week. I didn’t mention a lot of things
in that article. But he misrepresents the facts when he says
that I have hidden the story about our relationship. I wrote
about it at length right here in Counterpunch in my first article
criticizing his advocacy of torture, “Queen
Dershowitz
,” (October 5, 2002) which, if his clipping
service is anywhere near as efficient as he says in his letter,
he must have seen. In that article, available to anyone
on the web, I said that I had refrained ever since his 1985 review
from commenting on his most egregious public utterances because
I didn’t want the substance of my remarks trivialized or contaminated
by his long-ago unfair review, so I would leave the criticism
those remarks deserved to others, whose considered opinions couldn’t
be dismissed in irrelevant ad hominem fashion. I further
said, in that article, that 17 years was a long enough moratorium,
particularly given the kinds of governmental brutality Dershowitz
was presently helping to rationalize. I stand by that decision
to reenter public conversation on his torture advocacy. How many
times does anyone have to write the same thing in the same publication
to qualify for fair disclosure?

The fact that someone writes
a slanted book review based on personal issues not made public
should not, in and of itself, sentence the writer of that misrepresented
book to a lifetime of silence on the reviewer’s subsequent errors
or failures. That’s a thick sentence, so I’ll put it another
way: I shouldn’t be banished from commenting on Alan Dershowitz’s
work in areas I know well merely because he once wrote a review
of one of my books that I thought then and still think now was
more about his own life than it was about my book. The New York
Times paid Dershowitz in dollars for his review of my book; he
should not get paid with my silence ever after as well. I kept
quiet about what he did for 17 years. Genug. Enough, already.
Why is he bringing it up now? In my Counterpunch article, I wrote
about his current advocacy of torture. Why doesn’t he respond
to that?

You know why. And so do I.
And so does he.

Dershowitz ends his letter
to Counterpunch by saying, “I thought I should at least
point out the motivation behind Jackson’s deception.” What
deception? What motivation? Alan Dershowitz didn’t identify a
single deception in my essay and he doesn’t know jackshit about
my motivations.

Finally, I am happy to note
that he and the people he hires to find and summarize articles
about him, still read Counterpunch, however irregularly. Given
the tone and topics of his recent writings and interviews, a
healthy dose of Counterpunch couldn’t do him anything but good.

Bruce Jackson

Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor at
University at Buffalo and editor of the web journal BuffaloReport.com.
Temple University Press will publish his book “Telling Stories”
early next year.

More articles by:

Bruce Jackson’s most recent books are Inside the Wire: Photographs from Texas and Arkansas Prison (University of Texas Press, 2013) and In This Timeless Time Living and Dying on Death Row in America (with Diane Christian, University of North Carolina Press, 2012). He is SUNY Distinguished Professor and James Agee Professor of American Culture at University at Buffalo

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