Monday, July 24, 2006

Lawyering for the Slayers of Civilians: A Link Round-Up

Alan Dershowitz has posted a lawyerly essay excusing Israel for its incredibly high death-toll in its assault on Lebanon, in particular for the high number of civilians it is killing. The left-wing blogosphere, to its credit, isn't impressed. This is a round-up of replies -- I've taken a brief quote from each, and given a link to the whole response. I wouldn't myself say everything that everyone I link to says; but the general thrust -- horror at the detached justification of the killing of civilians -- is definitely my reaction.

(Note: I will be adding more replies if and when I see them.)

Kung Fu Monkey: "I'm plainly not qualified to match my own intellectual prowess or moral sense against an internationally famous lawyer who teaches at Harvard. I am qualified to comment as his bartender, however..." (Note: this one is really funny. Even if you're already opposed to killing civilians, and don't really feel like being further convinced on this point, do read this. Really great bar story.) (Via the P. Z. Myers post, linked below.)

Matt Yglesias: "...mass explusion by means of force and the threats of force is the very essence of wrongfully targeting a civilian population."

Kevin Drum: "...I wonder how he'd respond to a similarly clever and nuanced definition of the word "terrorist"?"

Billmon: "If Alan Dershowitz had been a German lawyer, circa 1943..."

Henry Farrell: "Irish and British readers may find this line of reasoning familiar..."

Digby contrasts two quotes, from Ward Churchill on 9/11, and Alan Dershowitz on Israel in Lebanon.

Scott Lemieux: "I think the problem with the idea that genocide is perfectly justifiable as long you provide 24-hour notice and your victims are physically capable of becoming refugees is obvious..."

Juan Cole: "I don't know why Dershowitz stops there. Let me reformulate his argument for him. Shouldn't we recognize degrees of humanness?"

P. Z. Myers: "How could I have ever said a charitable word about Alan Dershowitz?"

Elton Beard: "Shorter Alan Dershowitz: Let us not be so quick as to condemn all wartime slaughter of civilians." (That's basically the entire post.)

Timothy Burke: " try and categorically justify what’s happening on the logic that some civilians are less civilians, that they’re all legitimate targets: how is that different from terrorism?"

Mitchell Freedman: "Dershowitz offers us an example of how an excessively aggressive defense of the conduct of the Israeli government toward Arabs can lead to a betrayal of our nation's political values that favor open government and justice..."

John, chez Ezra Klein, offers parallel quotes from bin Laden and Dershowitz.

Why We Worry: "Well, Mr. Dershowitz, I recall the Palestinians/Hamas/Hezbollah giving Israelis “well-publicized notice” to leave Israel. So, by your logic, those civilians who are killed in any suicide bombing are, in fact, complicit and should not be counted among the innocent victims. Somehow, I don’t think he’d agree."

Bustardblog: "The fact that a guy as brilliant as Dershowitz has to sink to such depths of amorality and to use logic so twisted as to make a contortionist blush in order to justify U.S. actions in the Middle East proves how morally bankrupt such behavior is." [I presume the "US actions" are funding & arming Israel, but the author doesn't specify.]

Siva Vaidhyanathan
: "Perhaps most troubling is that Dershowitz (and the leaders of Israel in recent weeks) have been invoking the exact immoral argument that Hamas and the IRA have been using for decades in support of the slaughter of innocent Israeli and British civilians: "They are all potential militants; some are just more culpable than others."" (via)

FurGaia: "...such speciousness to cleanse a guilt-ridden conscience will not pass the test of civilization" (from comments to this post; also via)

Sadly, No!: "There’s been a lot of talk about Alan Dershowitz’s latest rationalisation for Israel’s murder of civilians..."

MoorishGirl: "Some civilians, therefore, are less innocent than others. I told you we were trapped in a George Orwell novel, didn't I?" (As with Elton Beard above, that's more or less the whole post.)

Arthur Silber: "...let us note the inevitable consequences of views like Dershowitz's -- which are, in fact, the necessary endpoint of the views of much of our foreign policy and military establishments, as well as of those of Israel."

: "...does it seem to anyone else that Derschowitz is essentially saying that the death of Israeli citizens is more tragic than the death of their Lebanese counterparts? After all, don't Israeli citizens have the ability to flee as well?"


There have been some similar critiques of an essay by Noah Feldman from the New York Times Magazine. (Full disclaimer: Noah and I went to the same college, and were friendly at the time, although I don't believe I've seen him since.) I read Noah's essay as just describing the excuses that other people make -- but perhaps I'm biased because I know him. In any event, the excuses Feldman describes -- whether fairly attributed to him or not -- are also kicked around bit:

Billmon: "Let's leave aside the fact that this was exactly the same argument made by Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda to justify bringing down the twin towers..."

Publius: "By whatever justification you use to defend the attacks against civilian populations, that same justification applies to attacks on Israel’s own civilians (or to al Qaeda’s attacks on American civilians). And when that’s the logical implication of your position, you need a new position."

Special Bonus Section!
Dershowtiz Critiques from
Crooked Timber Commentators

Some of the commentators at the above-linked Crooked Timber post are really good. Since a lot of people don't read comment threads, I've pulled out somewhat longer quotations than I did for the above links:

"I guess those who voluntarily remain in the US and Israel have become complicit too." - abb1

"They’re coming up with the reality faster than anyone can come up with the parody." - p. o'neil

"One of the interesting things to note is that a certain common line of Zionist justification for not allowing the refugees of 1948 to return to their homes in what became Israel was that by leaving the war zones they had become complicit in the war on Israel. It seems to be difficult to avoid complicity whether staying or leaving a war zone." -- otto

"...I also found objectionable Dershowitz’s suggestion that there was a far clearer line between combatants and non-combatants in Israeli society than in Shiite Lebanese society. That doesn’t strike me as obviously true given the near-universality of Israeli military service and the paramilitary nature of many of the settlers." - Chris Bertram

"...The distinction between civilans and combatants is not, as Dershowitz implies, a distinction between people who are morally innocent and people who are morally guilty and thus liable to punishment. Being a combatant is not a crime, after all." -- gr

"It’s not only about military service. He spells it out: “recruit, finance, harbor and facilitate”. On ‘our’ side this includes pretty much every Israeli and American citizen. You pay taxes in Israel or the US - you’re a financier. You have to be unemployed and homeless to avoid being complicit." -- abb1

"As far as I can see, Dershowitz has taken the line from one of his most prominent clients (“I will do everything I can to find the real killers”) and run with it." - dquared

Dershowitz's essay is "also quite close to bin Laden’s ‘letter to America’... [bin Laden] gives the notice to leave the war-zone as well..." -- abb1

... the thread then drifts onto more general issues. Go read it if you feel like it; I'm all quoted out.


Leila Abu-Saba said...

Great work, Stephen, I've linked on my blog and changed the title of my original post so all the folks who have me on a feed get the alert.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stephen! May I add a link to my post on this issue here?

I shall be adding a link to this post in mine.