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The Case Against Alan Dershowitz
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel vs. Dershowitz

By Regan Boychuk*
April 2005


Alan Dershowitz is a well-known lawyer and professor at Harvard law school,
a prolific author, and makes regular appearances in the media. When it comes
to Israel, he is particularly outspoken and taken quite seriously within
certain segments of the North American mainstream. Whether he deserves to be
taken seriously is another issue altogether. In a recent talk at York
University in Toronto, Canada, Professor Dershowitz repeated many of the
controversial claims of his recent book,[1] but one struck me as -- even by
his standard -- exceptionally far-reaching. In the course of arguing that
Israeli authorities no longer torture Palestinians, Dershowitz claimed he
had a long conversation with the Israeli human rights organization, Public
Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), in which PCATI not only
conceded that there was no longer any torture for them to investigate, but
that they refused to change their name because it helped them attract media
attention.[2]

Although organizers of his lecture wore shirts arrogantly proclaiming,
“Dersh knows more than you”, I decided to check his claim. First, I visited
PCATI's website (www.stoptorture.org.il) and immediately found its July
2003 report containing 48 affidavits testifying to the continued use of
torture against Palestinians by Israeli authorities. More than three years
after Professor Dershowitz claims torture had stopped, PCATI reported: “Each
month, the ill-treatment reaching the level of torture as defined in
international law is inflicted in dozens of cases, and possibly more. In
other words -- torture in Israel has once more become routine.”[3] And after
Professor Dershowitz claims PCATI conceded torture had ended, PCATI was
still reporting that “Instances of torture, abuse, prisoners held
incommunicado and excessive violence against [Palestinian] detainees
continue to grow in both numbers and severity”, while “interrogators and
perpetrators of torture, their commanders and superiors enjoy impunity.”[4]

These reports didn’t exactly corroborate Professor Dershowitz’s story so,
next, I contacted PCATI to confirm his allegation. “Dershowitz’s claim that
he had long conversations with PCATI and that we reported that there is no
longer any torture in Israel,” I was told by PCATI’s Orah Maggen, “is
totally false. We never met with him or spoke with him directly. I did meet
him at the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] when he spoke at the Law and
Constitution Committee [but] I, and representatives of other human rights
NGOs challenged most of what he said about torture, the role of human rights
NGOs and other issues.”

When I reported PCATI's denial to Professor Dershowitz, he replied: “During
my conversation at the Knesset I asked the representative of the committee
[Orah Maggen] why they kept their name, despite their acknowledgement that
torture was no longer a significant issue? She responded -- I remember
clear as day -- as follows: 'You have no idea how difficult it is to get
attention to any human rights issues in this country. Maintaining our
organizational name, with the word torture, is essential to getting needed
attention.' I had an extensive argument with her about that tactic, focusing
especially on the international implications and the misleading nature of
the name outside of the country. I am certain she remembers the
conversation because it was quite heated. It also took place in front of
numerous witnesses.”

When I emailed PCATI Dershowitz's “clear as day” recollection, Ms. Maggen
replied that it is true that there was a heated exchange with others
present, but “All other statements made by Professor Dershowitz are
blatantly false and utterly preposterous… Neither I nor any other
representative of PCATI acknowledged, claimed or in any way stated that
torture is no longer a significant issue. On the contrary, it is our claim
that the systematic and large-scale torture and ill treatment of Palestinian
detainees and prisoners continues to this day.” She further stated that,
“Neither I nor any other representative of PCATI ever stated that we kept
our name to ‘get attention’ for any reason whatsoever. Considering the fact
that torture is still widespread and that PCATI has its hands full
struggling against the torture and ill treatment of Palestinian detainees
(and others) by Israeli authorities, the claim regarding statements we
supposedly made about our organization's name is totally absurd.” Finally,
she concluded that Dershowitz's claim was “shocking in its audacity.”

In fact, however, it is on par with Dershowitz's claim in The Case for
Israel, that the Israeli government has a “generally superb record on human
rights,” and that “Israel’s record on human rights is among the best in the
world.”[5]

What's “clear as day” from this little episode is that Dershowitz's every
word should be taken with a mountain of salt.

*Regan Boychuk is a graduate student in political science at York University
in Toronto, Canada and gets irritated when people get away with lies.
<[email protected]>

[1] Alan Dershowitz,  The Case for Israel (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons,
2003).

[2] Alan Dershowitz, public lecture at Osgoode Hall Law School, York
University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 14 March 2005.

[3] Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, “Back to a routine of
torture: Torture and ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees during arrest,
detention, and interrogation”, July 2003, p. 11,
<www.stoptorture.org.il/eng /images/uploaded/publications /58.pdf>.

[4] Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, “Preventing torture: Legal
advocacy, legislative activism & public outreach: A narrative report”,
[Draft] 2004, p. 1.

[5] Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, pp. 204, 199. Despite Dershowitz’s
fervent attempts to prevent its publication, readers can soon find what
promises to be a thorough debunking of The Case for Israel in Norman G.
Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse
of history  (Berkeley, CA: University of California, June 2005).

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