A Look at Dershowitz’s Latest

Neal Ascherson reviews Dershowitz’s latest in openDemocracy:

Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways … is about doctrines of pre-emptive and preventive war – and of pre-emptive and preventive “targeted killing” (selective assassination). Four years ago, he appalled much of the world with a book (Why Terrorism Works) and a number of articles in which he suggested – in tune with cruder pronouncements from the Bush administration – that a legal framework could be devised to regulate the use of torture in “war on terror” situations.

He has now applied many of the same arguments to establishing what he calls “a jurisprudence” to regulate the resort to pre-emptive and preventive war and murder. And, like the ministers of Salem, he is in no doubt that we have entered new and Satanic times which render the old rules antique and obstructive…

Michael Ignatieff put his finger on the weak joint in the whole approach when he wrote of Dershowitz’s previous book: “Judicialisation of torture, in my view, would lead to its ‘banalisation’, to torture becoming routine rather than an emergency exception”… Much the same applies to “judicialising” the practice of pre-emptive or preventive attack. The knowledge that such attacks were in principle lawful, as long as certain conditions were met, would leave the exceptions helpless at the mercy of the rule. It would open the door to chaos and carnage.