"Why terrorism works."
September 12, 2002 1:30 PM   Subscribe

"Why terrorism works." In an interview plugging his new book, Alan Dershowitz makes some interesting points and suggests some intriguing solutions vis-a-vis various Current Situations.
posted by donkeyschlong (24 comments total)
In this interview, Dershowitz says things that people on the Left and people on the Right will take issue with. I don't agree with everything he says, but I like the way he slices across the traditional Left/Right divide that frames so many debates about the legacy of 9/11.
posted by smrtsch at 2:01 PM on September 12, 2002

That's what I liked about it -- he has opinions that veer to either side individually but achieve a sort of sensible balance collectively.
posted by donkeyschlong at 2:21 PM on September 12, 2002

I saw an interesting interview between Dershowitz and Jeremy Paxman. I'm not sure that it comes across in the transcript, but I felt that Dershowitz was floundering (as many have against Paxman). His argument seemed to fall apart completely when presented with the example of the British dealing with the IRA (from "The problem has been that particularly the European community have rewarded terrorism" to "Because the British understood that by rewarding the end of terrorism, and by turning terrorists into statesmen, you can do something") - at this point Paxman gave up in exasperation.

Dershowitz also has no reasonable take on the fact that the state of Israel was created as a direct result (reward) of terrorism.

But then he's got a book to sell ;<(
posted by daveg at 3:13 PM on September 12, 2002

Wow. I feel dirty after reading that. Dershowitz is the anti-chomsky. It's hard to believe he actually holds these opinions, it's almost like he's trolling the press in order to sell his book. Torture? Is he insane?

It's also interesting to note that his book about terrorism ignores the actions of the US and the Soviets during the cold war. It would seem to me that if you want to show terrorism as "working" you would probe the US involvment in Nicaragua, or the Soviet actions in Eastern Europe. It seems Dershowitz isn't explaining anything about terrorism, he's using terrorism to support his clearly nearly Fascist beliefs....kinda like someone else we know.....

ps on spellcheck Dershowitz=overshoot
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:28 PM on September 12, 2002

I'm surprised that a discussion of "successful" terrorism leaves out any mention of Algeria in 1954-62. Anyone know if he covers that in the book?

I take issue with a great deal of what Dershowitz has to say. Perhaps the thing that puzzles me most is his apparent acceptance of the validity of terrorism perpetrated by nations. It seems odd that his reluctance to describe Israeli action against Palestinians as terrorism leads him to omit most state-sponsored actions from his moral continuum of terror. Is Arafat really so much worse than Rwanda? Or the Shoah? And why is the ANC an example of bilateral terror, but almost nothing else so qualifies? These seem like very muddy points to me.

ps on spellcheck Dershowitz=overshoot

One of the alternatives is "despotize". I love these spell check things. Even if they do bring a little of 1142 into every thread.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 4:29 PM on September 12, 2002

Advocating torture: It's just so refreshingly non-ideological, isn't it? My (censored).
posted by raysmj at 5:13 PM on September 12, 2002

More on the the tortured logic behind the prof's take on torture. (This article argues that he's not quite advocating torture - just discussing what he feels is the inevitable and seeing a need for a transparency that, in the end, would by his own reasoning increase the use of torture. In short, yes, he's insane.)
posted by raysmj at 5:29 PM on September 12, 2002

Dershowitz said; "People have asked me whether I would do the torturing and my answer is, yes, I would if I thought it could save a city from being blown up."

That sound very coldly and very seriously sane.
posted by hama7 at 6:08 PM on September 12, 2002

As a thought experiment -- "would you torture a conspirator to save a city" -- the answer for me is straightforward: pass the needles and I'll get to work. Unfortunately, the real question we'd have to face is "would you torture someone if he or she might be able to save a city?" Because there's almost always going to be the chance that the victim doesn't have the information. How sure would we have to be of this person's involvement? How sure would we have to be that there's even a real ticking bomb? I worry that this is one of those philosophy-course problems that makes an interesting dilemma on paper, but has no clear parallel in messy life.

One sidenote: in the movies we make, we let our heroes beat answers out of people in order to save lives. Isn't this torture? Why do we accept it? Is it better to break bones than use needles?
posted by Yogurt at 6:27 PM on September 12, 2002

P.S. I thought the interview was great. The comparison to the Kurd and Tibetans was provoking. Thanks donkey.
posted by Yogurt at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2002

I'm also glad he menitoned the Kurds and Tibetans. Sadly, Tibet may be the clearest evidence that non-violence doesn't work.

I'm also glad he mentioned Chechnya, though they've been practising terrorism like mad, kidnapping people and blowing up apartment buildings. Unfortunately the situation in Chechnya seems to be rarely discussed among even the far left and far right press. When Putin says he's concerned about terrorism he's talking about Chechnya.
posted by bobo123 at 6:47 PM on September 12, 2002

hama7: Except that he is current leaning in favor of having *legalized* torture, because he says it would end hypocrisy. You'd have to get a warrant for it. Where torture has been allowed in practice, however, he admits that it has increased. Law enforcement, if given an inch, will . . . you know the cliche. But all's well if there's transparency and the rule of law. Maybe this is an obscure philosophical and hypothetical thing. If so, what's the point, exactly? Why does he keep going on about it?
posted by raysmj at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2002

Is torture an effective method for getting credible information?
posted by yertledaturtle at 8:07 PM on September 12, 2002

First, he says, It's never acceptable to target civilians.

Then, he says, There's no comparison between Begin and Arafat. Begin limited himself to killing British civil service people, whereas Arafat has killed babies and children.

Relatively few civil service people wear uniforms and carry guns. A rational person would consider them civilians.

Alan Dershowitz is just another crackpot.
posted by SPrintF at 8:42 PM on September 12, 2002

SPrintF: A 'crackpot' made the statement than Begin (whose actions he did not condone, by the way) targeted only a certain enemy, while Arafat doesn't give a hoot who he kills as long as there's lots of blood.

There is a big difference.

raysmj: His torture speculation will probably never become reality. No judge in his right mind would give a warrant for torture. I hope we will never have to see a world where that scenario becomes necessary.
posted by hama7 at 9:14 PM on September 12, 2002

Is torture an effective method for getting credible information?
Very good question. The answer, as I'm sure you know, is that it is decidedly not. Some people will say anything to make it stop, which is part of why coerced confessions are excluded from legal procedings. Some people will lie as hard as they can because they see that as their only remaining weapon. Some people hold their convictions dearer than their physical and even mental well-being. Anyone who tortures is both vile and a fool.

Can anyone remember which American it was who was forced to videotape an anti-American message by his captors, but blinked out the word "torture" in Morse code the whole time? I think it was in Beirut, but it might have been Tehran.
posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 12:27 AM on September 13, 2002

Thanks Nicolae Carpathia.

That is excatly what I thought.

So the question I now have- is why is it even being suggested by people like Dershowitz? Are they sadists?

Is torture a form of terrorism?
posted by yertledaturtle at 2:20 AM on September 13, 2002

Hama7, you said: A 'crackpot' made the statement than Begin (whose actions he did not condone, by the way) targeted only a certain enemy, while Arafat doesn't give a hoot who he kills as long as there's lots of blood.

There is a big difference.

What makes you believe that Arafat doesn't give a hoot who he kills and that Begin did? Also, could you specify which killings you are talking about?
posted by joebob at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2002

All of you who are dismissing Dershowitz out of hand...rather than just use terms like "crackpot" or "sadist" try to argue logically against him. You'll find it much more productive.

Whatever your feelings about Israeli settlement policy and occupied territories policy, you have to admit that the only case were we know for certain Israeli's deliberately allowed the killings of innocent civilians was in the Lebanon camp massacres. The PLO deliberately targets a range of civilians dead on.

And he's not an apologist for Begin. He clearly states multiple times that he disagreed with the use of terrorism in that situation. However, he also states that he feels there is a difference between targeting the governmental infrastructure of a state (civil servants or military) and randomly attacking civilians, especially women and children. I can't disagree with that. On a side note, when Begin et al bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in the 1940s, the largest act of terrorism for which the were responsible (and the Hotel was a British command center at that point, not a functioning hotel) they repeatedly called in bomb threats that were ignored. When was the last time you heard of Palestians groupd calling in a bomb threat before exploding a device?

As to the torture, he presents a complicated yet reasoned argument. You may disagree with him. I think I do. But argue from facts and logic, don't dismiss outright.
posted by pjgulliver at 9:24 AM on September 13, 2002

If we've actually come to the point where I cannot dismiss the idea of sanctioned torture outright, then, well, I fold.
posted by Skot at 9:31 AM on September 13, 2002

Dismiss it outright! I dismiss it outright because I believe that torture is not a reliable means of gathering information.

But just saying something like "Torture! Dershowitz is obviously a crackpot." Is an Anne Coulter like argument.
posted by pjgulliver at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2002

On the other hand, I cannot dismiss the idea of torturing Ann Coulter.
posted by Skot at 9:38 AM on September 13, 2002

Not to derail the thread, but I guess there are exceptions that prove every rule Skot....
posted by pjgulliver at 9:53 AM on September 13, 2002

So pj , if Dershowitz is intelligent, he would realize that torture is not effective as a means of gathering information.

So why he is he writing books advocating it?

Is he trying to stay ahead of the curve so to speak or does he really believe torture is a viable method for combatting terrorism?

I really don't know but I am wondering.
posted by yertledaturtle at 3:42 AM on September 14, 2002

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