Subscribe via RSS Feed

Torture Advocate Decries, Joins Campaign to Suppress “Immoral” Political Discourse

[ 44 ] January 31, 2013 |

We’ve already discussed the campaign to suppress political speech at Brooklyn College. Dershowitz’s argument now is that the event could be acceptable…if it included him:

“The event shouldn’t be cancelled, but the political science department should withdraw it’s [sic] support, or alternatively the political science department should invite me or someone else that represents an opposing point of view and give equal endorsement.”

Here’s a question that comes immediately to mind: Does Dershowitz believe that there should be a counterpoint when he expresses his views, including his grotesquely immoral defenses of torture? Funny thing:

It’s odder still when Brooklyn College associate professor of political science Corey Robin notes that Dershowitz has delivered the college’s Konefsky Lecture. It’s a lecture decided on and invited by the political science department, which has included multiple political speakers before, and, more to the point, it is offered without counterpoint, entirely alone.


Alan Dershowitz is so committed to both an open two-sided dialogue and an open vigorous debate on torture that he gave a 2008 Brooklyn College lecture in which he discussed torture at length. Alone.

The Brooklyn College panel might be great; it might be a fiasco; it might be confused or embrace propositions we think morally wrong. What it’s not, right now, is worthy of being tied to big-name, galvanic media-friendly words of outrage like “blackballing” and “racism,” while dealing in tropes of academic censorship. But this is par for the course with Dershowitz, the law’s most enduring concern troll. Hypocrisy in defense of claiming victimization or demonizing your opponent is no vice. It’s not even an effort on par with skipping over a puddle. Dershowitz can worry about one’s ability to speak freely before academia after likely burying Norman Finkelstein’s academic career. He can publicly hound a respected jurist and UN commissioner until the man writes a bizarre op-ed retraction utterly disavowed by fellow members of his own commission, ignore the contradictions and declare himself on the side of the angels.

So, apparently, colleges have a moral obligation to have “balanced” panels…in cases where the speakers might disagree with Alan Dershowitz. Hacktacular!

To echo Mobute, to defend the department’s decision to host the BDS panel should not be taken to mean that I’m supportive of BDS. In particular, I think they’re completely and disastrously wrong to advocate an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. (Although you know who else is at best skeptical of boycotting Israeli scholars? Judith Butler, which may suggest that the discussion will be more critical and complex than its critics assume.) But this is beside the point — if BC can invite Alan Dershowitz to defend torture, it can certainly have a discussion critical of Israeli policy that might involve advocating remedies I disagree with. They should be allowed to make their case. And it’s clear that even Dershowitz doesn’t believe that every political speaker has to be balanced with a “counterpoint,” because that would be stupid.

  • Derelict

    The fact that John Yoo is now ensconced at Stanford, and Alan Dershowitz is an invited lecturer at BC, tells me that the America I knew growing up had ceased to exist.

    We used to be the guys to worked to stop torture around the world. That we’re now the people doing it–and rewarding handsomely those who advocate for it–says it all.

    • Murc

      The fact that John Yoo is now ensconced at Stanford, and Alan Dershowitz is an invited lecturer at BC, tells me that the America I knew growing up had ceased to exist.

      Oh? How old are you?

      If you’re in your twenties, you grew up in George W. Bush’s America.

      If you’re in your thirties or forties, you grew up in Ronnie Reagans and/or Richard Nixon’s America. If you’re over fifty, you probably have actual memories of a time when this country had an apartheid regime enforced by terrorist organizations that were endorsed at the highest levels of our government.

    • NonyNony

      We used to be the guys to worked to stop torture around the world.

      Were we? Or were we the guys who claimed loudly and publicly that we were working to stop torture while we paid people behind the scenes to quietly do things we didn’t want to be associated with?

    • Richard

      Yoo isn’t at Stanford. He’s at Berkeley. And he was a tenured professor there before he joined the Bush White House and authored the torture memos. He wasn’t rewarded for his torture arguments, he simply went back to his tenured professorship position when he left the Bush administration. Nothing new about tenured professors being able to say immoral or distasteful things. Under the rules of tenureship at Berkeley (Boalt Hall), there was no way to remove him from his position .

      And although I fundamentally disagree with Dershowitz’ reasoning on torture, he did not engage in torture (never served in the Bush Administration or any administration) and doesn’t advocate it. He does justify it under certain situations. And while I abhor that position, it isn’t grounds to remove him from his tenured position.

      • Julian

        I actually heard yesterday that Yoo just got a job at Stanford, and I was quite surprised, but the internet doesn’t corroborate that fact (his job, not my surprise).

        • Richard

          I haven’t heard that and I would be astounded if that was the case. Its one thing for Berkeley to keep Yoo – it had no choice in the matter since if they had tried to fire him, he would have sued and won big. But for Stanford, given his history, to offer him a position – just makes no sense. Yoo has spoken at Stanford since returning at Berkeley but thats something else entirely.

          • T. Paine

            I very much doubt Boalt couldn’t have come up with a compelling case for firing Yoo. But he wasn’t some dirty hippy in Colorado saying mean things about powerful people, so they didn’t have the stomach to even try.

          • Justaguy

            Would Yoo have won that lawsuit? It isn’t a matter of intellectual/academic freedom. For Harvard Law School to fire Dershowitz for advocating torture would be a violation of academic freedom. But Yoo’s writings didn’t advocate for torture in public discourse, they were part of a larger conspiracy to commit torture. So it wouldn’t be punishing him for the content of his speech, but for a speech act which enabled war crimes.

            I don’t say this to argue one way or another – I have no idea what the law would say on this issue – I’m just curious if its really so clear cut.

            • Richard

              I think it’s very clear cut.Yoo didn’t make policy. He gave legal advice to the president. It was batshit crazy corrupt legal advise but it was legal advise. No criminal prosecution against him had a chance . You could never have got a conspiracy charge to stick because you couldn’t show he had the requisite intent.

              And the tenure rules for the UC system are very strict. You’re basically a prof for life unless you commit a felony or engage in horrendous harassment and violation of university rules. From everything ive heard, hes actually a good teacher and very tolerant of opposing views. Well liked by his stidents. You can’t get around the tenure rules, especially when were talking about a legal memo to a client, by claiming it was a conspiracy to commit war crimes. UC would have spent millions defending the lawsuit and eventually lost

              • justaguy

                Correct me if I’m wrong, but Yoo’s writing a memo was a part of a bureaucratic process which implemented a policy. Thus, it was not simply expressing his opinion about torture, but it was part of a larger process which led people to commit torture. So, that’s different than if Dershowitz wrote a pro-torture book, and President Obama read it and decided to implement a torture program.

                The fact that he’s a good teacher is immaterial. If a professor at a medical school committed malpractice on the same scale that Yoo did, I doubt they’d still have their job.

    • We used to be the guys to worked to stop torture around the world.

      No, we weren’t. The America you grew up in was one in which the CIA wrote torture manuals for Central American dictatorships, and put the strength of its foreign policy foursquare behind, for instance, Hosni Mubarak.

      The United States in 2013 is doing much, much more to stop torture around the world than the America you grew up in ever did.

      • Malaclypse

        Yep, the America I grew up in ran the School for the Americas.

        • Derelict

          All true that America did terrible things–I remember Allende’s death. But we at least paid lip service to the notion that torture was an international crime.

          Ah, perhaps it’s my own innocence I mourn!

          • DrDick

            All we did was outsource the torture so as to have plausible deniability. I would add that we also participated in torture in Vietnam tossed suspected Viet Cong out of helicopters as part of interrogations. I had friends that saw it.

  • Anonymous

    And it’s clear that even Dershowitz doesn’t believe that every political speaker has to be balanced with a “counterpoint,” because that would be stupid.

    Come on. “X would be stupid” does not entail “Dershowitz does not believe X.”

    • commie atheist

      It would be great, however, if every time Dershowitz spoke in public, there was someone who responded to him by saying “Alan, you ignorant slut.”

  • Njorl

    Doesn’t Dershowitz’ support of torture essentially amount to:

    “I support the use of torture under conditions which are almost certainly never going to exist, only if it is approved by officials in ways they will never have the guts to do.”

    I’m no fan of his, but calling him a torture advocate is a bit of a stretch.

    • Jameson Quinn

      You left out “… so anyone complaining about torture should stay calm, because I got this.”

    • david mizner

      No, it’s not a stretch.

      The fanciful ticking time bomb scenario is often cited by people — from Mitt Romney to Bill Clinton — to “conditionally” support torture, but once you cross that moral line…if you’re a little for torture, you’re for torture. Likewise, if “torture warrants” exists pols and the courts would find a way to use and abuse them.

      • Malaclypse

        if you’re a little for torture, you’re for torture

        This. Some bright moral lines really do exist, and this is one of them.

      • TT

        Alan Dershowitz in the WSJ, 11/7/2007:

        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.

        The kind of torture that President Clinton was talking about is not designed to secure confessions of past crimes, but rather to obtain real time, actionable intelligence deemed necessary to prevent an act of mass casualty terrorism. The question put to the captured terrorist is not “Did you do it?” Instead, the suspect is asked to disclose self-proving information, such as the location of the bomber.

        The definition of “real time, actionable intelligence” can be contorted and distorted so many different ways as to render the phrase utterly meaningless, particularly when it comes to the “ticking time bomb scenario” torture apologists haul out as the alleged trump card.

        What is “real time”, anynway? Two hours? Five days? Three months? Who decides? The president? Congress? CIA? Alan Dershowitz? Also, if the purpose of this exercise is for neocons and others to show that they have the “stomach” to do whatever’s necessary, then why stop at mere “torture”. Why not start raping and murdering young children of terrorists in order to get them to “talk”? The apologists might dismiss such scenarios as absurd, but they do they get to pick and choose the hypotheticals? (And surely there are few hypotheticals in this instance as absurd as the ticking time bomb, no?)

        The purpose of torture is to to torture. Period.

        • Major Kong

          I’m pretty sure that the only time the “ticking time bomb” scenario ever happened was on every third episode of 24.

        • The definition of “real time, actionable intelligence” can be contorted and distorted so many different ways as to render the phrase utterly meaningless, particularly when it comes to the “ticking time bomb scenario” torture apologists haul out as the alleged trump card.

          In a ticking bomb scenario, the person being interrogated knows he only has to hold out for a little while, and he knows that if he provided false information, the bomb will go off before the torturers can discover they’ve been mislead and come back. This is their trump card?

          The purpose of torture is to to torture. Period.

          Disagree. Getting false confessions has long been a major purpose of torture, whether we’re talking about European women saying they fornicated with demons, American pilots admitting to war crimes, or al Qaeda members talking about Iraqi WMDs.

        • commie atheist

          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.

          At this point, I’m willing to believe that those stories were made up as well.

          • Murc

            Well, I’m pretty sure if I were tortured, I’d give up everything they I knew. So in that sense it would have worked, and it would produced information that was not false.

            But I’m also 100% sure I’d start making up any shit they wanted to hear. So there’d be a lot of noise surrounding that signal.

            • Njorl


              I agree that torture should always be outlawed, but this ridiculously naive notion that it never obtains usable information is wrong.

              It’s immoral.
              It produces excessive false intelligence.
              It taints evidence so it can’t be used in law enforcement.
              Obtaining information is usually a rationalization for sadism.

              All of that is true, but it can be used to obtain information.

        • Malaclypse

          The purpose of torture is to to torture. Period.

          This is one of those times that Jim Henley said it best.

        • david mizner

          Well I’d be interested to see his recommended guidelines for the torture warrants. To get a warrant, how many people must the government be “protecting.” What kinds of “non-lethal” torture would be permitted? Perhaps the permissible techniques would depend on how many people the government is trying to save. A thousand or more, crushed testicles a la Yoo. Ten thousand or more, rape. I mean government’s gonna do it regardless, might as well give it legal sanction. What could go wrong?

          • Njorl

            Well I’d be interested …

            No, you wouldn’t. If you were, you would know. Google exists.

      • Njorl

        Well it’s a good thing our laws forbade torture, otherwise we might have tortured people during the Bush administration.

        Situation A: Law forbids all torture

        Situation B: Law allows torture in conditions which can’ exist.

        We know in “Situation A” that we will torture people, and we will not hold them legally responsible. It is an empirically demonstrated fact. But if someone suggests trying “Situation B” he should be metaphorically tarred and feathered.

        • Njorl

          should be “which can’t exist”

  • CJColucci

    Many years ago, the New York City Bar Association held an event concerning pre-trial and trial publicityand fair trials, featuring Dershowitz and then-US Attorney Rudy Giuliani. I said I wasn’t interested in going because there was nobody on the other side.

  • oldster

    Typo alert, I think:

    “to defend the department’s decision to host the BDS panel should be taken to mean that I’m supportive of BDS.”

    you meant “should NOT be taken etc.” if I understand the next sentence.

  • Major Kong

    “Italy can survive the loss of Aldo Moro. It would not survive the introduction of torture.”

    General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa

  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Rather depressingly, Eric Alterman, who really should know better, FB’d last night that the Brooklyn College PoliSci department should withdraw its support for the panel unless it included a speaker opposed to BDS.

    (Let me stress that I actually also oppose BDS…but I don’t believe in playing Calvinball with academic panels and suddenly inventing a rule that each, individual panel must present both sides of any controversial issue.)

  • jeer9

    Speaking of torture and having now seen Zero Dark Thirty, I re-read the Glenn wars concerned with it and Greenwald is correct that the film condones torture but is wrong that the work is Hollywood schlock, that it stereotypes Muslims (more than a few Middle Eastern types are “good“ guys), and that the ending is triumphantly jingoistic. Kenny rightly perceives the film’s admirable aesthetic qualities and the troubling nature of the depictions of torture in which one’s sympathies “should” be aroused by the plight of the victims (just as the self-righteous debasement of Jews by Christians in The Merchant of Venice is unnerving, no matter how heartless you think Shylock), but he is wrong to believe it doesn’t matter that the narrative portrays torture as an integral and necessary part of the security mission (though there are numerous instances where Bigelow and Boal – subtlely or unsubtlely, as your tastes may be – undermine this course of action: the main American torturer’s treatment of his pet monkeys and their theft of his ice cream cone being one).

    And while it’s not a fatal flaw that the sequence of events may be untrue (Argo is also inaccurate but in a more historically innocuous way: heightening the drama of the final airport scene), it is morally offensive in a way that Merchant could never be to an enlightened Shakespearean audience (the Jews were banished from England in 1290 and don’t formally return until 1655 and thus didn‘t – or never did – pose a threat so that the staged anti-Semitism, even if met with public approval, seems a poor parallel with today’s bigotry toward Muslims; and though the impoverishment and forced conversion of Shylock through devious lawyering has an oblique connection to the contemporary semantics of “enhanced interrogation,” these consequences are far from depicted as fair nor a prescriptive ideal of state policy toward resentful minorities).

    Whether a work is prefaced as fiction or “based on real events” or “the honest to God truth,” film/literature/history/memoir is always political in nature because of the inescapable component of the creator’s choice, even if one does not wish to appreciate that aspect first and foremost, and it’s difficult to fathom how one could not come away from ZDT feeling as though the torturers did what they had to do during an ongoing crisis (and thus should be free from prosecution). The War on Terror is ugly, but our ugliness comes from a better place. That this War has taken a terrible toll on the protagonist at the conclusion is quite clear when the pilot asks her where she (and our culture) is headed and she literally (and metaphorically), with tears running down her cheek, cannot respond.

    Great works of art (and ZDT is a very fine effort) should cause a re-examination of values. Bigelow, however, has not been nearly persuasive enough in her presentation of the agency‘s views, nor does her cinematic subversion of the tactic, if that was indeed an intention, reach the level of redemption. It remains an unending shame that CIA interrogators like Dan are not spending some time in prison rather than holding down desk jobs in Langley.

    See the film. Lose some sleep.

    • JTR

      that it stereotypes Muslims

      No, I disagree, it has Pakistani’s speaking Arabic for chrissakes. Not exactly a hard one to look for.

  • Scott like Claire Potter you are deliberately spreading disinformation regarding BDS. Contrary to the claims of yourself the Palestinians Academic and Cultural Boycott does not require any boycotts of individual Israeli scholars. This is a blatant lie spread by Israeli firsters. The PACBI like the boycott of South Africa instead targets Israeli academic institutions. The fact that “progressive” scholars have reading comprehension problems and can not figure this out does not change the fact. You, Potter, and Butler are wrong on this matter. Nowhere does the PACBI require an end to all academic collaboration with individual Israeli scholars. It is modeled exactly after the earlier boycott of South Africa and none of the “progressives” defending Israeli apartheid had a problem with that boycott. Please stop spreading lies in support of apartheid.

  • Jacob Gabel

    I was tortured for almost 3 years by the FBI and their friends only
    because 85 years old man, Roland H Sibens(chicago), now he is 88, convinced them that I
    am a terrorist. I was tortured for working on my prosthetic legs in
    the basement. I done absolutely nothing illegal or wrong. They thought
    that in theory it is possible to hide bomb in them. They saw an
    opportunity to get famous, so they were trying to torture me till I
    sign their insane story. They tortured me using more than 100
    different torturing methods and trust to me waterboarding is not how
    they torture nowadays. I dont know where to find justice.

    I think that after 9/11 things got out of control. Freedom fighters
    became tyrants. In 1945, most Germans had an opportunity to learn about Nazis death
    camps. I hope that one day American citizens will get chance to learn about people
    like me, who were tortured with no reason for years.

  • Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links « A Bit More Detail()

  • Pingback: Brooklyn College’s academic freedom increasingly threatened over Israel event | Local Philadelphia News Aggregator()

  • Pingback: Glenn Greenwald – Brooklyn College’s academic freedom increasingly threatened over Israel event | Independent Australian Jewish Voices()

  • Pingback: TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Brooklyn College’s Academic Freedom Increasingly Threatened Over Israel Event()