September 15, 2004  ·  Lessig

Making Torture Legal, a story by Anthony Lewis about an issue that ought to be an issue in this issueless campaign, is the best of its kind that I’ve seen. I was referred to it by an Israeli friend. As he said to me, “of course there is torture in Israeli prisons, but there is nothing remotely as bad as this.”

Truth, and justice. May it again be the American way.

  • Anonymous

    Eh, wait a minute, Israel isn’t exactly a champion of human rights. They murder Palestinians by the day.

  • Max Lybbert

    Sorry anonymous, that’s only how the Palestinians characterize it. Card also covers the same issue here, here, and here.

  • Anonumous #2

    The obvious solution to the Israeli problem is to change the name. When you call it “Israel” people get the idea that you’re trying to resurrect an ethnic homeland from thousands of years ago. And ethnic homelands are soooo last century. Call it “Harmonia” or “Neutralia” or even “East Harmonia” and “West Harmonia” if you have to have two countries.

  • http://www.palookaworld.blogspot.com Palooka

    The reason you won’t hear this issue raised is that it’s a losing issue for both candidates. Kerry doesn’t want to look like he wants to coddle terroists, and Bush doesn’t want to look too heavy handed.

  • anonymous 3

    Sorry anonymous, that�s only how the Palestinians characterize it. Card also covers the same issue here, here, and here.

    max lybbert perhaps you would concede that israel controls large portions of territory (the west bank and gaza) which are populated by palestinians and israelis, in which palestinians have no rights of citizenship.

    the so-called “occupied territories” appear very much to be a de facto arpartheid state in which the palestinians are treated like coloured south africans.

    c’mon man, it has been almost 40 years and people – human beings – are left in limbo living as refugess on the land where they were born.

    it seems there are only two choices: offer them israeli citizenship, or withdraw the forces of occupation and give them control over these territories (as demanded by UN resolution 242.)

    it seems however abundantly apparent that israel has no intention of doing either: they want that land, but without any palestinians on it. unfortunately, the palestinains are rather stubborn and won’t leave on their own despite the depravations of living under israeli occupation.

    an impasse. broken by occassional bouts of extreme violence and terrorism ON BOTH SIDES.

    sadly, there is no palestinian nelson mandela. it is what they desperately need. someone to stop the violence and bring the world’s cameras into gaza show them what life in the apartheid state looks like and let americans understand what their government supports to the tune of 10 million dollars PER DAY. let them see the hypocrisy of bringing democracy to iraq as they actively deny it to palestinians.

    the palestinians need a martin luther king, a ghandi, and all they have is a thug like arafat.

    similarly, the israelis need a man like atat�rk to create a true democratic, secular state where jews, christians, and muslims can live in peace together as they do in many parts of the world…. as little white children and little black children live together and go to school together in the american south.

    and all the israelis can come up with is a thug like sharon.

    it is a pity that these two peoples cannot between them produce a single individual capable of rising above the hate and partisanship. perhaps this says more about their character of these two cultures than anything else.

  • Max Lybbert

    /* max lybbert perhaps you would concede that israel controls large portions of territory (the west bank and gaza) which are populated by palestinians and israelis, in which palestinians have no rights of citizenship.
    */

    I would concede that Israel was attacked a few times by neighboring countries (eg. Yom Kippur War and Six-Day War), and during the wars it seized land from its aggressors. That land is now occupied, in the same way that Okinawa has been occupied by the US since WWII. I would also concede that Palestinians have a much larger influence on Israeli politics (even without terrorism) than they ever did while still a part of Egypt, Syria and the other countries involved. Arabs rally around the Palestinians because of their hatred of Israel, not their love for Palestinians.

    /* it seems there are only two choices: offer them israeli citizenship, or withdraw the forces of occupation and give them control over these territories … [however] they want that land,
    */

    Well, Israel did return the Sinai pennuinsula to Egypt.

    Israel wants the land it now occupies because it is still under constant military attack from its neighbors (such as Syria), and that land makes the country easier to defend. Israel’s original borders meandered so much that it required an incredible number of troops to defend. When its enemies began moving towards Israel, Israei troops seized portions of those countries to have a shorter border, and because losing enemy ground isn’t as big a deal as losing home ground.

    /* an impasse. broken by occassional bouts of extreme violence and terrorism ON BOTH SIDES.
    */

    What kind of terrorism comes from Israel? You mean attacking terrorists who have publicly stated they are terrorists and who work very hard to stay near “human shields”?

    Or are you referring to Israel’s targetted incursions where the numbers of dead are overreported (even Human Rights Watch puts the number of dead from the Jenin incursion at less than 60 — mostly terrorists).

    /* let them see the hypocrisy of bringing democracy to iraq as they actively deny it to palestinians.
    */

    Hmm. So Arafat is not democratically-elected? What about his prime minister?

    /* it is a pity that these two peoples cannot between them produce a single individual capable of rising above the hate and partisanship. perhaps this says more about their character of these two cultures than anything else.
    */

    Hmm. I seem to remember European countries warred constantly (until recently) , with only occasional bouts of peace. The Balkan Wars, WWI, the Russian Revolution and WWII all happened in a pretty short time period. I wasn’t alive, or living in Europe at the time, but I bet the periods between the wars weren’t idyllic either.

    I don’t think history has been any more peaceful in other parts of the world.

    I don’t think this is proof of any failings in either the Palestinians or Israelis. I think its a general human failing.

  • Max Lybbert

    I will note that Palestinians and Jews lived together well since the Middle Ages. That arrangement fell apart as large numbers of foreign (mainly European) Jewish immigrants arrived and began enriching the Jewish natives during the last 100 years or so. The area that originally formed Israel was purchased from Palestinians by these immigrants.

    I will also concede that these immigrants did engage in terrorism against Britain (including the capture and killing of two British officers, and the booby-trapping of their bodies) to get the occupying British force to leave, so that Israel could be an independent state.

    That doesn’t make terorism right. My problem with Palestinian terrorism is that it mainly targets Israeli citizens (only getting soldiers through collateral damage), while Israel takes incredible effort to target only Palestinian terrorists, only getting bystanders through collateral damage (although, yes, Israel also destroys the homes of suicide bombers — something I disagree with). The IDF could cut its losses if it didn’t make that effort.

    I think Sharon’s wall is a good idea, but using it to seize more land is a bad idea created by current politics. I understand that the wall would be shorter, and easier to defend, if it did not run around the settlements in question.

    However, I would also like to note that the Palestinian “refugee camps” aren’t tent cities.

  • Anonymous #2

    I have a friend who did some traveling in the West Bank a little over a year ago. He described how a couple Israeli tanks would go into the center of a Palestinian town and stop there for no apparent reason. Palestinian boys would start throwing rocks at the tanks and after a while the tanks would open fire on the boys killing and wounding a few of them. The interesting thing is that everyone seemed to know exactly what was going to happen. The ambulances and news media would show up as soon as the tanks rolled into town.

  • http://www.jzip.org/ adamsj

    Speaking as a patriotic American, I’d much rather talk about Israelis and Palestinians and their respective faults than even think about the sins of my own country. Can’t we all just get along?

  • Max Lybbert

    I’m sorry, but something tells me that the IDF would gain nothing by baiting little boys so it could kill them. Besides, “if the ambulances and news media would show up as soon as the tanks rolled into town (i.e. before shooting), why haven’t those images been released?

    When responding to nearly every IDF targetted killing, the Palestinians do have to admit that some of the dead were terrorists. This week, IDF killed four Palestinians, and even the locals identified one as a terrorist (but said the other three were kids), IDF says three of the four were armed. IDF does release the ages of victims when it can, even when they are fourteen or ten or whatever.

    The most glaring counterexample to IDF’s respectful record is the recent case where IDF soldiers shot a rocket “near” a crowd of peaceful protestors, but ended up killing several, in that case IDF admitted fault the same day, and launched an investigation. If media were able to see Israelis baiting Palestinian children, before shooting, I’m sure the story would get out, since this story did.

    My other logical problems with this are:

    • tanks aren’t very good at close range
    • little boys can’t through rocks so far that they would be anywhere near the effective range of a tank
    • little boys are smart enough to move out when a tank comes to town (and “everyone” else who knew what was going on could encourage the kids to leave)
    • it’s an expensive way to kill a few kids that have nothing to do with the conflict
    • although every Israeli man is required to serve in the military at some time, they are free to take non-combat positions, and many do (they aren’t mindless robots, and they see Palestinians as people too).
  • Anonymous #2

    …the IDF would gain nothing by baiting little boys so it could kill them.

    If the goal of the IDF is only to prevent violence against Israelis then they gain little but, if the goal of the IDF is to make life so difficult for the Palestinians that they will leave their land, then killing the Palestinian’s children is very effective.

    It is, however, very unlikely that Ariel Sharon gives direct orders to Israeli tank crews to bait Palestinian children in order to kill them. It is, however, entirely plausible that Israeli tanks are sent into the center of Palestinian towns without a clear military objective as part of a general campaign of belligerence and intimidation. Furthermore, the Israeli military is fully aware that the situation is likely to escalate to the point that Palestinian children are fired at with a tank mounted machine gun.

    …why haven’t those images been released?

    By way of example, a quick google search gives this and this.

    When responding to nearly every IDF targetted killing, the Palestinians do have to admit that some of the dead were terrorists.

    Palestinians tend to talk about those killings where it can be proved that only innocent civilians were killed. It is, however, an interesting principle that it is OK to kill innocent people as long as “terrorists” are also killed.

    The most glaring counterexample to IDF’s respectful record is…

    Having seen estimates for the number of Palestinians killed in the last four years at 3,020 (373 of whom were fifteen years old or younger), I suspect that your counterexample may not be the only one.

    If media were able to see Israelis baiting Palestinian children before shooting, I’m sure the story would get out, since this story did.

    They are described as “clashes” and “incidents” and are excused because it is all part of the fight on “terrorism”. For example, in a Sept. 9, 2004 ABC News (AP) story “…soldiers opened fire from a tank-mounted machine gun, killing three Palestinians, including a 9-year-old boy…”. In this case it is excused because the group that was fired on included “gunmen, stone throwers and bystanders” which presents some logical problems of it’s own if one tries to imagine what the group that was fired on actually looked like.

    * tanks aren’t very good at close range

    Being shot at with a tank mounted machine gun at close range is hardly very safe.

    * little boys are smart enough to move out when a tank comes to town (and everyone else who knew what was going on could encourage the kids to leave)

    My previous comment was intended to draw attention to the choices that both the Israelis and Palestinians make.

    although every Israeli man is required to serve in the military…they aren’t mindless robots, and they see Palestinians as people too).

    Being part of an effort to set up a (Jewish) ethnic homeland for (primarily) immigrants from the United States and Europe in a place where Palestinians are very close to being a majority puts the Israeli soldiers in situations with inevitable tragic consequences.

  • Max Lybbert

    Sorry, while you have clarified things a bit, I can’t concede the whole argument.

    I would like to clarifiy the “tanks aren’t good at close range” comment. I must first admit that I am not ex-military, and my understanding of the subject comes from talking with former soldiers and reading publicly-available information.

    The US M1 Bradley (which is used by the Israelis, although they may have other tanks as well) has several “models.” The M1′s main gun is mounted eight feet above ground, and cannot be pointed downward. It can be pointed straight out or upward, and has a maximum range of over 3 km. Ignoring lift caused by traveling through the air, the rocket should take roughly 3/4 seconds to drop eight feet. According to what I can find, the rocket leaves the gun traveling 1500 feet per second, so in 3/4 seconds it should travel over 1000 ft. It is possible to aim at something not on the ground (eg., a wall), but aiming at a person is very difficult.

    The US is using tanks in city fighting in Iraq, but most close shots from the main gun hit buildings above the ground floor. We know that the Israelis use tanks for street fighting, even if they must first use armored bulldozers to create a wide enough path to enter alleys and such. In such a small area, I simply can’t imagine the main gun being aimed at all. In the end, I believe the Israelis rely on the machine gun, which is very useful at close range.

    BTW, my remaining issues are:

    /* Having seen estimates for the number of Palestinians killed in the last four years at 3,020 (373 of whom were fifteen years old or younger)
    */

    The Palestinian estimates of dead in Jenin originally topped 1,000. Now, Human Rights Watch has put that at around 60. I think the number you link to may not have been revised by a third party. I would also point out that (1) people under 15 can hold weapons, and those weapons can kill others, (2) even with potentially inflated numbers, the Palestinians put the underage dead at roughly 10% of the total, simply not what you would see if Israeli soldiers commonly went into neighborhoods and shot little boys, (3) not all those 373 underage deaths were caused by tank/machine gun fire, and (4) far more underage Israelis have died in the same time — in fact virtually every Israeli killed has been unarmed, the only exceptions to that have been accidental killings (a single soldier who happened to be riding the bus, for instance).

    /* It is, however, an interesting principle that it is OK to kill innocent people as long as �terrorists� are also killed.
    */

    It would be wonderful if only armed terrorists were killed in the fighting. However, the terrorists, even when armed, hide out in populated areas — trying to use human shields and increase the numbers of dead noncombatents. It is also definitely not OK to kill innocent Israelis as long as at least one suicide bomber is killed. Neither side is virtuous, but between the two, I believe the Israelis have tried harder to act humanely.

    /* in a Sept. 9, 2004 ABC News (AP) story ��soldiers opened fire from a tank-mounted machine gun, killing three Palestinians, including a 9-year-old boy��. In this case it is excused because the group that was fired on included �gunmen, stone throwers and bystanders� which presents some logical problems of it�s own if one tries to imagine what the group that was fired on actually looked like.
    */

    What were gunmen (note plural) doing in the middle of a crowd that included a 9-year-old boy? Trying to rack up the numbers, possibly? Is it possible that the gunmen actually posed a threat to the bystanders? Inquiring minds want to know.

    /* Being part of an effort to set up a (Jewish) ethnic homeland for (primarily) immigrants from the United States and Europe in a place where Palestinians are very close to being a majority puts the Israeli soldiers in situations with inevitable tragic consequences.
    */

    My understanding is that the Palestinians far outnumber the Israelis. That is why suicide bombing doesn’t threaten the Palestinians as much as the Israelis. I don’t know if that (Palestinians > Israelis) includes Palestinians that live in countries other than Israel, however.

    I agree that modern-day Israel is a product of US and European immigration. Muslims, Jews and Christians have lived in the area since the Crusades, and (aside from the Crusades themselves) used to get along pretty well. The large numbers of Jewish immigrants shifted the balance, and led to our present-day situation.

  • Max Lybbert

    Oh, in response to the images (and I hate to nitpick), those pictures aren’t anything earthshaking. They show children (and apparently teenagers) who don’t like Israeli tanks. They don’t prove that those children were later shot at.

    And, I know that I originally said “images,” although the only way to link these particular images to violence against the children pictured would be through the story they appear with. Perhaps I should have asked, “If this is so common, why haven’t the reporters released stories detailing the practice? We know that international journalists have filed stories embarrassing to Sharon, and the Israelis have even admitted fault in some cases.”

  • Max Lybbert

    Well, I have to admit that I don’t have the numbers to back up some of my claims. Although I do know that even Western papers sometimes quote the original Jenin estimates although much more accurate numbers have been released. Particularly, I based my “far more underage Israelis have died” on the simple fact that terrorism targets civilians, including children.

    It is true that when IDF goes after terrorists, the terrorists do shoot back, and sometimes kill Israeli forces. However when Palestinian terrorists can choose their targets, they target civilians.

    Thanks for referring me to the CIA factbook, I don’t know why I hadn’t already looked there.

  • Anonymous #2

    What’s up with the “censorship”? Why did the second to last (previously 14th) comment silently disappear? It basically just gave statistics on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on web pages that were linked to. Was it interpreted as spam because of a mal-formed hyperlink or was there a problem with the content?

  • Anonymous

    Well it does seem easier to rehearse the Israel-Palestinian conflict than talk about the deliberate use of torture and general abuse of international law by the US. Why is it that the attempt by Bush, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and their tame lawyers to turn the US into a police state is not of interest in the campaign? It was very hard for people outside the US to understand the appeal of Reagan to the American people – the appeal of Bush is beyond all conception. The US used to be a great country and example – not perfect, but better in its good parts than pretty well anyone else. Obviously the Bushites don’t care – why doesn’t Kerry care?

  • Max Lybbert

    Well, anonymous, I was interested in returning to the original topic, but I didn’t want to look like I was simply trying to change the subject (even though the earlier posts had changed the subject from the original topic).

    After reading the leaked documents offering a legal opinion on what exactly crosses the line and counts as torture. That Bush asked the question seems like a pretty damning issue, but then again we don’t know how it was phrased. “What can we do during interrogations?” is a politically-correct question, and “When does it become torture?” is a little harder to defend.

    I have to admit that the separation of powers defense (Congress or the courts have no authority to tell the President how to use his constitutional power, even if the President chooses to use torture) and the “self-defense” defense (if the torture could arguably have been needed to protect [self, family, nation] it should get a green light) both bother me. However the Supreme Court has shown its creativity in working around such defenses (in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court held that the President’s war powers included taking and holding prisoners, but not continuing to hold prisoners).

    The appeal of Reagan is best understood by looking at Carter. Carter wanted to be a good world citizen, and bent over backwards to not ride roughshod over other countries. Carter had a personal goal to not threaten military lives (although he did support Reagan’s use of force in Afghanistan). Carter was elected more because of lingering issues over Watergate than because of his more sensitive America.

    Reagan campaigned on nationalism. Carter explained how US agents had basically fooled Panama into creating the Canal and the Canal Zone. Carter wanted to Do The Right Thing, and give the Zone back, and Reagan declared that we paid for the Canal, so we should hold onto the Canal Zone.

    Bush’s popularity, IMO, comes from his nationalism. That is why he continually “won’t outsource national security” or “let Paris decide when America needs defending.” Kerry is trying to get local support from populism, and international support from thinking like Carter. Interestingly, roughly the same percentage of Europeans who support Kerry (66%) believe that a strong US is undesirable (58%).