LYNNDIE ENGLAND, READ THIS
Alexander Cockburn persists in lying about me. In his October 17 “Beat the Devil” column, “From Lynndie England to Shaquille O’Neal,” Cockburn falsely claims that I have “clamored for torture.” Cockburn knows full well that I “clamored” for just the opposite. As I wrote in my essay “Tortured Reasoning,” which appeared in Sanford Levinson’s book on torture, “I am against torture as a normative matter, and I would like to see its use minimized. I pose the issue as follows. If torture is, in fact, being used and/or would, in fact, be used in an actual ticking bomb terrorist case, would it be normatively better or worse to have such torture regulated by some kind of warrant, with accountability, recordkeeping, standards and limitations?”
What I called for would have prevented precisely the sorts of claims that England made in her defense. Referring directly to Abu Ghraib, I conclude that “if a warrant requirement of some kind had been in place, the low-ranking officers on the ground could not plausibly claim that they had been subtly (or secretly) authorized to do what they did, since the only acceptable form of authorization would be in writing. Nor could the high-ranking officials hide behind plausible deniability, since they would have been required to give the explicit authorization.”
This is surely different from clamoring for torture. Cockburn’s false personal potshots cheapen The Nation‘s discourse and diminish its credibility.
As regards Dershowitz’s clamors for torture, lying is not necessary. The record suffices. Amid the post-9/11 debate about which bits of the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions to heave overboard, there issued from the Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School the widely publicized message that it’s OK to use torture, so long as the torturers shoving a “sterilized needle” (the prof’s preferred instrument) under their victims’ fingernails have some sort of warrant in their pockets. So, at that fraught moment Dershowitz called for regulated torture, which, contrary to his claims here, sought to make the outrageous normative, subject to rules, procedures, record-keeping and so forth.