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Civil Liberties Lawyer Alan Dershowitz Says Torture By US Law Enforcement Is "Inevitable," and Might As Well Be Legalized. A Debate Over Legalizing Torture Warrants

StoryDecember 21, 2001
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Last week, the State Department began a public service campaign to prevent international terrorism. That was one of aseries of PSAs recorded for general release on radio stations. At the same time as the US escalates the so-called"war on terrorism," and law enforcement rounds up non-citizens, holds them in secrecy and moves toward implementingmilitary tribunals, US media debates pressing suspected terrorists with torture.

There haven’t yet been any presidential directives or pleas from the attorney general to allow such extreme measures.But some FBI investigators have been itching for heavier tools in their interrogations of alleged 9-11 materialwitnesses. As one experienced FBI agent told the Washington Post, "We are known for humanitarian treatment.So, basically, we are stuck. It could get to that spot where we could go to pressure . . . where we won’t have achoice, and we are probably getting there."

Several weeks ago, Democracy Now spoke to Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter-who wrote a piece called "Time tothink about torture"- which begins:

"In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to... torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubberhoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatestcrime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren’t talking at all. Couldn’t we at least subjectthem to psychological torture, like tapes of dying rabbits or high-decibel rap?"

Of the many ideas for prosecuting the war on terrorism that have come out of the last few months, the idea that hasmost surprised and angered civil libertarians actually came from one of their own. In an op-ed piece in the LATimes last month, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz suggested using "Torture Warrants": court orders tocontrol what Dershowitz calls the "inevitable" use of torture by U.S. law enforcement. He claims torture isconstitutional, and says its sanctioning by warrant would make it more accountable and transparent. "If we are tohave torture," he argues, "it should be authorized by the law."

But civil liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate-who has worked with Dershowitz on several cases-holds closer to thetraditional libertarian view that torture is detrimental to a democratic society. He deconstructed Dershowitz’s claimthis week in the Boston Phoenix. Today on the show, we’ll revisit torture and civil liberties with yet anotherdebate.


  • Harvey Silverglate, criminal defense and civil liberties attorney and co-author of ??The ShadowUniversity: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. Co-founder of The Foundation for Individual Rights inEducation ("FIRE").
  • Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law Professor and author, most recently, of ??Letters to a Young Lawyer.Dershowitz’s clients have included kidnap victim-turned terrorist Patty Hearst, junk bond king Michael Milken,televangelist Jimmy Bakker, heavy-weight boxing champion Mike Tyson, and OJ Simpson.

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