RM Issue #031212
Western countries must acknowledge torture is a necessary evil, lawyer says
Harvard professor predicts nonlethal use authorized by senior judges to fight terrorism
IRWIN BLOCK The Gazette Tuesday, December 09, 2003
Western societies have to consider allowing the use of nonlethal torture while interrogating suspects - for instance, when a terrorist act is about to be committed, Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz says.
Insisting he is not advocating its use, Dershowitz suggested yesterday to law students at the Universitée de Montréal that senior judges could be empowered to issue "torture warrants" permitting the limited use of torture in cases of imminent danger.
He predicted nonlethal torture will be used in certain circumstances in such countries as Canada, the U.S. and France.
"I don't favour the use of torture, but I know it will be used," Dershowitz said.
Torture will occur even if a country has signed international treaties against it, and even though freedom from torture comes closest to any as a desired universal right, he said.
Dershowitz said he has often cited one example of nondeadly torture: sticking a sterilized needle underneath the fingernail as a way of getting a terrorist suspect to talk.
He said he mentions this notion to stimulate debate, rather than to have people believe torture will never be used.
"Should it (torture) be done secretly, without accountability, or openly? That's the debate I want to have," Dershowitz said in a session that drew about 50 students, professors and observers.
Dershowitz said the issue is the subject of a forthcoming book of essays, published by Oxford University Press, that begins with his argument.
"An example is if the United States were to have captured a terrorist 18 months ago who laughed that a nuclear bomb were to go off in 10 hours in New York City and there were to be one million casualties.
"Put aside the moral issue - Is there anyone who does not firmly believe torture would in fact be used in a situation like that?"
Although one student questioned where this would lead, no one challenged his example.
Dershowitz speculated few judges would ever issue such "torture warrants," thus ensuring limited use. But the issue has to be addressed because our current laws were written at a time of uniformed armies and bombs dropped on civilian targets.
Among other topics, Dershowitz said targeted assassinations can never be a first resort but can be justified if the target is "clearly a combatant and plainly guilty and very likely to continue committing terrorists acts, and no realistic possibility exists of arresting or apprehending him."
He rejected a suggestion terrorism be viewed in a context of "humiliation."
"Terrorism is a tactic selected by elite, wealthy leaders and there is only one cause of terrorism in the world, namely its success," Dershowitz replied.
He agreed ready recruits can be found among people who feel they have no future.
Later, Dershowitz spoke to diplomats at a hotel reception sponsored by B'nai Brith Canada to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Last night, he addressed members of the Jewish community at the Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation in Côte St. Luc.
U.S. lawyer champions Canadian ID cards
Last Updated Wed, 08 Oct 2003 13:12:23
OTTAWA - Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz told a government-sponsored conference on a proposed national ID card that such a plan would increase security.
INDEPTH: National ID cards
Immigration Minister Denis Coderre hired Dershowitz, at a cost to the government of $36,000, to open a one-day forum on the cards Tuesday night.
Dershowitz said the ID cards would be a good idea for Canada, although his own country has rejected the idea.
"We need not fear technology as long as we control it, rather than allowing it to control us," he said.
He said there are some privacy concerns, but if everyone carried a card with fingerprint or iris scan data on it, it would be harder for authorities to use racial profiling.
"If everybody's rights are diminished a little, everybody's interested in the issue," he said.
"'Big Brother' is not beyond our technical capacity," said Dershowitz, referring to George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty- Four.
"We could have DNA databases from birth to death. We could implant clips in people. We're not going to do that," he said.
Canadian authorities, from the federal privacy commissioner to the Canadian Bar Association, have rejected the idea of a national ID card.
FROM SEPT. 19, 2003: No case made for ID cards: privacy commissioner
A Commons committee reported Tuesday it has no evidence Canada needs such a card, and independent watchdog groups have said it could cost up to $7 billion to implement.
FROM OCT. 7, 2003: Commons report calls national ID cards a waste of money
Coderre has been criticized over accusations from Ontario information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian that she's been blocked from attending the conference.
Cavoukian is a world expert on biometrics and a vocal critic of the ID cards. Coderre has denied he stacked the conference with proponents of the national ID card.
Written by CBC News Online staff