Torture and the targeted killings of American terrorists should be legal and subject to the prior approval of a judge, Harvard law professor and best-selling author Alan Dershowitz tells Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
Both should be used only extremely rarely and under extreme circumstances, the civil rights advocate said during a visit to Newsmax’s headquarters in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Giving the hypothetical example of capturing a terrorist who knew the location of a nuclear bomb that was about to be detonated in a major American city, any president might resort to torture to extract the information.
“I don’t care who is the president,” Dershowitz said. “Every single president would authorize whatever it took to stop that bomb from going off.”
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And since that certainly would happen, he said, the process should be formalized. “If we are going to do it, let’s have a torture warrant.”
Dershowitz pointed out that The New York Times had made a similar suggestion about the targeted killings of Americans on foreign soil, and he agreed with the paper.
The United States adopted targeted killing as an essential tactic to pursue those responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since 2009, the Obama administration has escalated targeted killings, primarily through an increase in unmanned drone strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership, but also through an expansion of U.S. Special Operations kill/capture missions. The September 2011 drone strike on Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni cleric and al-Qaeda propagandist, is the prime example of a targeted killing of a U.S. citizen.
“Let’s have a warrant, let’s require a judge to pass on the need, so the decision is not made just by a local CIA agent on the ground or even by the president of the United States,” Dershowitz said. “It has to go through a judicial process, there has to be affidavits indicating what the information is and how we know the information.
“When we authorize the targeted killing of an American citizen – which I think is justified if the American citizen has become an enemy of the United States and is involved in ongoing terrorism – I would agree with The New York Times that we should have a judicial process,” he added. The judge would then have to consider the case on its merits, deciding if the evidence is strong enough, why there is an immediate threat and the reason he cannot be arrested and tried.
“I would apply the same analysis to targeted killing as to torture.”
Dershowitz pointed out that “targeted killing is much better than untargeted killing,” as it generally leads to fewer innocent casualties. “It’s better than dropping bombs all over the place and just killing everybody in the area,” he said.
“It should be used only against ongoing terrorists who are in the course of preparing for terrorist attacks, when it’s impossible to arrest them and when we can do it without having too much collateral damage – that is too many uninvolved civilian people killed in the process. Those are the three rules.”
Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, has been a best-selling author of a wide ranging number of books dealing with legal matters over the last three decades. A steadfast supporter of Israel, he was presented with the Menachem Begin Award of Honor in December. He said he is convinced that President Barack Obama is equally supportive of the Jewish state’s security.
He said he believed Israel would not have to “go it alone” in preventing the mullahs from getting the bomb. “Iran’s threat is well beyond Israel. It threatens all the Gulf States, it threatens Turkey, it threatens southern Europe, it threatens the United States through terrorism, so I would hope that the world together, led by the United States would assure that Iran never develops nuclear weapons.
“It’s in the president’s best interests and America’s best interests to make sure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons,” he added. “If it was only to protect Israel, I would have my reasons for doubt: as Elie Wiesel once said, ‘ the lesson of the holocaust is always believe the threats of your enemies more than the promises of your friends.’
“But it is in America’s self-interest, and the president has come to realize that.
“It’s also in his self-interest, historically. He does not want to go down in history as the Neville Chamberlain of the 21st Century. Neville Chamberlain was a great prime minister, he brought healthcare, he brought widows’ and orphans’ relief, but he is only remembered for not having recognized the evil of an armed Nazi Germany.
“This president doesn’t want to go down in history as having failed to prevent the greatest evil of the 21st Century, a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Dershowitz said he realizes Obama does not support every move that Israel makes and said he shares the president’s discomfort with West Bank settlements. A freeze on building could be a perfect litmus test to see whether the Palestinians are genuine in their calls for renewed talks, he suggested.
“I would personally like to see a settlement freeze which brings the Palestinians to the negotiating table – or doesn’t bring them. Let the world see who is at fault for not bringing about peace.”
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