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the iJamming! Book Review WHY TERRORISM WORKS by Alan Dershowitz

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The iJamming! Featured Book Review

WHY TERRORISM WORKS
understanding the threat,
responding to the challenge
by ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ

(YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS, $25/£15 2002)

CONTINUED FROM PART 1

Factually, this is all proof, in the case of the Palestinians, as to Why Terrorism Works. It certainly explains the appearance of Yassir Arafat's image on the book cover. But what of Al Qaeda, whose Osama Bin Laden is also pictured on the book sleeve? Clearly, Bin Laden's ugly mug sells books (or it did around the anniversary of September 11), and of course Bin Laden has belatedly placed the Palestinian issue at the center of his "root causes." Dershowitz sees a more direct connection. "Those who bestowed these benefits on the Palestinians following their terrorism, especially our European allies and the United Nations, made September 11 unavoidable," he writes. "By continuing to reward Palestinian terrorism even after September 11, they have continued to make terrorist attacks more likely." Since this book was published, we've had the horrific attacks in Bali and Kenya, and so his point is plausibly proven.

At the same time, it's all very well titling the key chapter of his book Why Our European Allies Made September 11, but it's ridiculous to let America itself off the hook: while we can maybe excuse President Clinton for failing to see the direct link between Al-Qaeda and the Palestinian cause (which Clinton certainly served to further during his time in office), we should also criticize the former President for failing to truly recognize Al-Qaeda's threat or to sell that threat to the American public. The Palestinian terror attacks through the years have been an (successful) attempt at winning international attention, but Al Qaeda's terrorist attacks through the 1990s were directed specifically at the USA, and the lack of either total condemnation or a real military response, such as Dershowitz insists upon in the case of Palestinian terror groups, likely emboldened Bin Laden to act with ever increasing bravado.

Dershowitz does talk a little about instances in which Terrorism has failed, especially in the case of the Kurds and Turkish Armenians. These are two groups with long-standing claims to a homeland who have suffered far greater genocide at the hands of their 'occupiers' than the Palestinians. Yet attempts by both groups at terror tactics, in bold imitation of the PLO, saw them so quickly rebuffed by European powers and the United Nations that they soon dropped the violence. Why the negative response to these groups' claims and not to the Palestinians? Dershowitz, a Jew, has no doubt. For the international community, "To support the Palestinian cause meant opposing a small nation with no oil and with a population consisting primarily of Jews, who were still the object of prejudice in many parts of the world. To support the Armenian or Kurdish causes, on the other hand, meant opposing Arab and Muslim nations with oil and with large populations that shared a common religion with a significant percentage of the world's inhabitants."

This doesn't make pleasant reading, but it becomes increasingly apparent to someone like myself, who has always attempted to maintain a certain convenient neutrality over the issue (i.e. both groups warrant Statehood, side by side), that the core purpose behind Palestinian terror, and the reason it receives so much support throughout the Arab world, is less that it strives to construct a Palestinian state than that it desires to destroy the Jewish one.


Time, perhaps, to move on. What, then, of the IRA in Northern Ireland and the ANC in South Africa? Has/does/did their terrorism work? Like the Palestinians, the political wing of the IRA often tried to distance itself from the terrorism it covertly approved, and this balance of the ballot and the bomb has 'won it' a certain number of concessions. Dershowitz is more willing to see two sides of a coin here. "Terrorism on both sides has certainly contributed to the urgency ending the conflict," he writes, "but it has not been the determining factor." Assuming we accept that the conflict has indeed ended, we could perhaps agree with him – and add that the weariness of the public, also on both sides, with indiscriminate terrorism that helped end the worst of the violence.

As for South Africa, ANC terrorism brought global attention to the horrors of apartheid, but many other factors helped bring that system down - including the international sanctions that so many have been reluctant to back against Iraq, internal dissatisfaction with the system even from those who had otherwise benefited, and, certainly, global recognition of Nelson Mandela as a man of peace and forgiveness. Perhaps at this point Dershowitz should have celebrated Mahatma Ghandi as evidence that resistance need not be violent to succeed; that example seems a missed opportunity amidst so much discussion of bloodshed.


"It becomes increasingly apparent to someone like myself. . .that the core purpose behind Palestinian terror, and the reason it receives so much support throughout the Arab world, is less that it strives to construct a Palestinian state than that it desires to destroy the Jewish one."


A cynic might retitle the second section of Dershowitz' book, Why Torture Works. The author himself breaks this middle part down to these two chapter titles: How An Amoral Society Could Fight Terrorism and Should the Ticking Bomb Terrorist Be Tortured? He uses the first of these chapters to run through all the means available to a democratic State to fight terrorism and concludes, in almost every case, that the loss of civil liberties is too great to warrant the benefits. But then he arrives at the following scenario. A country, let's say the United States, has captured a terrorist who is widely believed to hold information about a catastrophic impending attack and who declines to offer it through the standard interrogation tactics. The FBI hhasave tried everything – from cash incentives to immunity from prosecution and even the injection of truth serums and have still been met with silence. Does not then, hypothesizes Dershowitz, "the cost-benefit analysis for employing non-lethal torture seem overwhelming: it is surely better to inflict nonlethal pain on one guilty terrorist who is illegally withholding information needed to prevent an act of terrorism than to permit a large number of innocent victims to die."

It's a horribly distasteful thought, and our instinctive reaction is to deplore it, even as we assume his hypothetical example to be that of Zacarias Moussaoui (the self-confessed Al-Qaeda member who was arrested months before September 11 after arousing suspicions at an American flight school, and who has subsequently been charged as 'the 20th hijacker) and even as we may wonder aloud what information might have been revealed about September 11 had Moussaoui indeed been tortured.

But this is precisely what happened in the case of the 1995 'Philippines Plot,' whereby that nation extracted information from a captured Al-Qaeda member about terrorist plots to assassinate the Pope, simultaneously crash eleven commercial airlines carrying up to 4000 passengers into the Pacific Ocean, and fly an explosives-laden Cessna into the CIA headquarters in Washington. All reasonable people will be pleased that the plots were curtailed. How many of us are therefore willing to excuse the Philippine intelligence services' "tactical interrogations" that helped extract this information – tactics that included the use of lighted cigarettes on the genitals as well as the breaking of bones with chair legs? As long as such tactics don't occur on US (or UK) soil, as long as they wasn't conducted by our own security services, and for as long as they save potentially thousands of (western) lives, then most of us are probably willing to "look the other way."

Dershowitz posits that such an attitude is not only unethical on our own part, but that it's illegal under the Geneva Convention. He suggests that a legally upholdable 'torture warrant' is much more desirable than either allowing our security services to witness (or instigate) torture anyway, or else avoiding the option entirely when thousands of innocent lives are at stake. He appears to propose that, as the nation with the greatest protections for civil liberties, the USA should build a last-resort torture warrant built into its statutes - a warrant that could only be signed by the President, who would need to publicly reveal that information.

Ouch: All painful pun(ishments) fully intended. I oppose the proposal precisely because it flies in the face of many of Dershowitz' arguments. In the case of Moussaoui, we are all frustrated that "The government decided not to seek a warrant to search his computer" after the self-confessed al-Qaeda member's arrest. But that only proves that law enforcement and national defense has to operate far more effectively at a far more everyday level before we can even begin to contemplate our last resorts. Had the FBI searched Moussaoui's computer, had it simultaneously been receiving accurate information from the CIA about al-Qaeda's increased 'chatter', had the INS simultaneously been hearing from both law enforcement agencies as to which suspected terrorists should be arrested at American borders, then enough information might have been unraveled to have forestalled the horrors of September 11 – without the 'last-resort' use of torture.

Secondly, Dershowitz suggests that non-lethal torture (which he recommends would be administered by practiced medical experts, along the lines of a painful injection under the fingernails, which strikes me as not dissimilar to the surgical amputation carried out in Arab countries) only be applied after the suspect is granted immunity from prosecution as a necessary legal precept. But such endemic plea-bargaining already contributes to the perception of the American legal system as a game of negotiation rather than a tool of prosecution. Just think of Mob Under Boss Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano - whose many murders were forgiven and who was taken into the Witness Protection Program for ratting out a bigger fish, his Boss of Bosses John Gotti - yet who was later found in Arizona, running a major drug ring. (And yet everyday, petty drug dealers rot in American prison cells because they had nothing to plea bargain away nor recourse to expensive lawyers who could do the bargaining for them.) Just imagine then the outcry if Moussaoui had indeed been the 20th hijacker, and been granted similar immunity – even had he informed on his fellow hijackers and saved 3,000 American lives. To set such a committed terrorist free, even for supplying vital information, seems little different to me than the political gambles that nations like Italy and Germany took in the 1970s and 80s when they released their own captured terrorists - moves that Dershowitz rightly deplores.

Finally, the question of innocence will always be paramount. As any schoolyard bully knows, a kid with his arm twisted so painfully behind his back that it's about to break will say whatever the bully desires him to. Moussaoui has stood up in court and declared his membership of Al Qaeda, and yet also his non-involvement with the September 11 attacks. Let's presume just for a moment that he is indeed telling the truth. Had the FBI, CIA and INS all done their jobs correctly after his arrest, had it been apparent that some catastrophic attack was on the horizon, and had the torture warrant been available as a last measure of resort, then Moussaoui could have been tortured – and still not told us anything to prevent the attacks, simply because he may not have known anything about them to tell. And would America have looked any better in the international arena as a result? Of course not. (The Devil's Advocate in me is forced to point out that America fails to look any better for not using such methods either, but still, it must continue to take the high road.)


"The two deplorable and distinguishable marks of modern terrorism are firstly, that it's conducted by anonymous groups, or at least those "without a return address" as Dershowitz puts it, and secondly, that it deliberately targets defenseless civilians."

What options do we have then? How do those of us who live in democracies fight back against genocidal terrorists – especially of the fanatical religious kind - without endangering our treasured civil liberties? Not easily, judging by the fifth and final chapter of this book, entitled Striking The Right Balance. Dershowitz shies away entirely (thankfully) from the torture prospect in his ultimate attempt to walk a middle ground, choosing instead to focus on the benefits of National ID Cards, the importance of better trained, equipped and communicative security forces, the desire for brain trusts that extend far beyond partisan politics, and the need to challenge censorship by responding with "more and better speech."

He also argues strongly against the draconian tendencies of the Bush administration, noting how, although the terrorist acts of September 11 "were the result primarily of human errors – intelligence and security failures – rather than inadequate laws, the first reaction of the government was to urge a massive overhaul of our legal system, especially of our rights."

Such attempts to roll back civil liberties have been strongly attacked in the media, by the public, and to quite some extent, in the courts, which to my mind is part of the 'checks and balances' that are inherently built into any properly functioning democracy. And Dershowitz does well to point out that the current Administration has in fact reacted with greater restraint than previous leaderships. After all, Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War; dissenters and draft resistors were imprisoned during World War 1; 110,000 Japanese-Americans were interred after Pearl Harbor. Add in the Palmer Raids that followed the first world war and the McCarthy witch hunts during the cold war, and it appears that our worst fears of Attorney General John Ashcroft are proving thankfully, or at least currently, unfounded.

Not surprisingly, given all that he's written before, Dershowitz finally concludes that only the United States of America can set the international example if terrorism is to be properly deterred. ("If we refuse to undertake it," he writes, "it will simply not get done.") He writes that "It must become a firm pillar of American foreign policy that no nation or international organization be allowed to reward terrorism and that all must punish it." He also insists "the international law of war be changed to reflect the new realities of fighting terrorism. We should not be in the position of trying to fit our acts of self-defense into anachronistic formulations that give the terrorists an undue advantage in the courts of public opinion and international law. The laws of war must now be changed so that they can no longer be hypocritically exploited, as both sword and shield, by the terrorists."

I agree, as I do with most of Dershowitz' conclusions. And I'm glad he presented his arguments so forcefully. But for the USA to become "police commissioner in regard to terrorism" it must first help define terrorism in a manner that's internationally acceptable. The two deplorable and distinguishable marks of modern terrorism are firstly, that it's conducted by anonymous groups, or at least those "without a return address" as Dershowitz puts it, and secondly, that it deliberately targets defenseless civilians. To me, such a definition seems relatively simple - though I can just imagine the United Nations wringings its hands over a resolution that would outlaw suicide bombers as readily as it would al-Qaeda.

Were we ever to reach that state of unanimity, then it would become absolutely vital that the USA stands by its own definition. After all, to turn that well worn cliché on its head, it was only a couple of Republican Administrations back that Ronald Reagan likened the US-financed Contras in Nicaragua to America's Founding Fathers - when what he saw as freedom fighters were seen by others around the world as State-sponsored terrorists. The planet is a different place now, even just twenty years later, and we have opportunity to make amends for past errors. But there is no room to make further mistakes. That, as this book makes abundantly clear and catastophic daily events around us reinforce, applies to all of us, wherever we're from.

TONY FLETCHER, DECEMBER 2002

BACK TO PART ONE

Why Terrorism Works by Alan Dershowitz is available from Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, Amazon.co.uk. and most bricks-and-mortar stores.


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