Torture, Accountability and Name-Calling

A post by Larisa Alexandrovna entitled "Alan Dershowitz: Was He Against Nazi Practices Before He Was for Them?" dated November 11, 2007, well illustrates how some blogs endanger rational discourse and substitute name-calling for serious debate about controversial issues. Alexandrovna purports to be responding to an op-ed piece I wrote in the Wall Street Journal in which I stated unequivocally that "I am personally opposed to the use of torture." That is my normative position. In making an argument for political accountability if torture were to be used in extreme cases involving the risk of mass casualties (the so-called "ticking bomb scenario"), I quoted former President Bill Clinton and current Senator John McCain. I then dealt with the demonstrably false factual claim that some make that torture never works.

In responding to this wholly empirical claim, I said the following:

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.

Alexandrovna distorts this factual evidence into an "endorse[ment]" of torture as moral matter, despite my clear statement of my personal opposition to the use of torture. She then begins her name calling, analogizing me to "monsters", "a multinational crime syndicate", "political parasites", and "political prostitutes." Going even further she blames me for the increase of anti-Semitism around the world and challenges my commitment to Jewish values. These ad hominem attacks distort my position and that of President Clinton and Senator John McCain. I am against torture on moral grounds despite the empirical evidence that may sometimes produce life-saving and self-proving information. I also believe that since torture is being used and would be authorized by any president in a real ticking bomb situation, democracy requires accountability rather than deniability. Understandably her blog does not link to my article in the Wall Street Journal, because the last thing she would want anybody to do would be actually to read what I have said. For those readers who prefer facts to name calling, here is the link and here are the cites to other articles I have written about this contentious and difficult choice of evils that all democracies must face. Why Terrorism Works, Ch. 4, by Alan M. Dershowitz and Torture: A Collection by Sanford Levinson.

Now a word about the censorship policies of Huffington Post. Your readers may not be aware that the Huffington Post sometimes refuses to print ad hominem attacks and other times prints them with relish. Several weeks ago I submitted a blog about a debate being conducted by the Oxford Union regarding the one-state versus the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My main point was that the Oxford Union had shown anti-Israel bias by selecting as one of its speakers supporting the two-state position, a virulently anti-Israel writer named Norman Finkelstein who supports Hezbollah which demands the military destruction of Israel. In making my point about the bias of this selection, I had to show the readers who Finkelstein was and what his positions on Israel were.

Colin Sterling refused to post my blog on the ground that "we are not prepared, for a variety of reasons to host bloggers' personal attacks on others, in the manner of the section on Norman Finkelstein, whether or not they're true." They were true since most of them came from Finkelstein's own website and his own words. Fair enough if that is the consistent policy of Huffington Post, although it certainly denies readers access to controversial allegations. But now I read Larisa Alexandrovna's much more personal and much more ad hominem attack on me. This follows many other similar personal attacks based on my support for Israel and the two-state solution. This leads me to the following conclusion: your censorship policies seems to be heavily skewed in one direction when it comes to discussions of certain controversial matters. I would be interested in whether readers agree and if so, whether they think this serves the interest of truth and objective debate.

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Editors' Note: The Huffington Post has a stated policy of not posting blogs focused on our editorial decision-making process but, in the interest of transparency, we've decided to publish Prof. Dershowitz's comments -- even though they misrepresent the facts about what occurred with his submission on the Oxford Union debate and Norman Finkelstein.

We have allowed Mr. Dershowitz to continue his personal battle with Mr. Finkelstein on a number of occasions (see here and here), but because he laced his argument about the Oxford debate with unprovable and potentially libelous charges against Finklestein, we chose not to run it in that form and offered him the opportunity to revise his piece. He opted not to.

As for the suggestion that HuffPost is somehow institutionally opposed to Prof. Dershowitz's views on Israel (a claim he has made elsewhere), this is simply not true. We publish a wide range of viewpoints on Israel, including many that are unabashedly pro-Israel, including this recent post from Mort Zuckerman, which got very prominent play on our site. We have also published a post from Prime Minister Olmert, among many others.

Exercising our editorial prerogative had absolutely nothing to do with censorship or Alan Dershowitz's position on Israel, but rather our desire not to have the Huffington Post become a forum for unending personal battles and potentially libelous charges.

As for Larisa Alexandrovna's criticism of Prof. Dershowitz's views on torture, we leave it to our readers to decide if it is, as he claims, an ad hominem attack on him. We don't believe it is.