[Marxism] A new low (?) for the execrable Alan Dershowitz
elishastephens at hotmail.com
Sun Jul 23 18:00:08 MDT 2006
OK, I suppose it isn't a new low; that would be impossible for someone who's
already at rock bottom. However, today's op-ed in the Los Angeles Times
is well up there, oops, I mean down there. I'll refrain from commenting; the
commentary more or less writes itself (on this list, anyway).
'Civilian Casualty'? It Depends
Those who supports terrorists are not entirely innocent.
By Alan Dershowitz
ALAN DERSHOWITZ is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author, most
recently, of "Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways."
July 22, 2006
THE NEWS IS filled these days with reports of civilian casualties,
comparative civilian body counts and criticism of Israel, along with
Hezbollah, for causing the deaths, injuries and "collective punishment" of
civilians. But just who is a "civilian" in the age of terrorism, when
militants don't wear uniforms, don't belong to regular armies and easily
blend into civilian populations?
We need a new vocabulary to reflect the realities of modern warfare. A new
phrase should be introduced into the reporting and analysis of current
events in the Middle East: "the continuum of civilianality." Though
cumbersome, this concept aptly captures the reality and nuance of warfare
today and provides a more fair way to describe those who are killed, wounded
There is a vast difference -- both moral and legal -- between a 2-year-old
who is killed by an enemy rocket and a 30-year-old civilian who has allowed
his house to be used to store Katyusha rockets. Both are technically
civilians, but the former is far more innocent than the latter. There is
also a difference between a civilian who merely favors or even votes for a
terrorist group and one who provides financial or other material support for
Finally, there is a difference between civilians who are held hostage
against their will by terrorists who use them as involuntary human shields,
and civilians who voluntarily place themselves in harm's way in order to
protect terrorists from enemy fire.
These differences and others are conflated within the increasingly
meaningless word "civilian" -- a word that carried great significance when
uniformed armies fought other uniformed armies on battlefields far from
civilian population centers. Today this same word equates the truly innocent
with guilty accessories to terrorism.
The domestic law of crime, in virtually every nation, reflects this
continuum of culpability. For example, in the infamous Fall River rape case
(fictionalized in the film "The Accused"), there were several categories of
morally and legally complicit individuals: those who actually raped the
woman; those who held her down; those who blocked her escape route; those
who cheered and encouraged the rapists; and those who could have called the
police but did not.
No rational person would suggest that any of these people were entirely free
of moral guilt, although reasonable people might disagree about the legal
guilt of those in the last two categories. Their accountability for rape is
surely a matter of degree, as is the accountability for terrorism of those
who work with the terrorists.
It will, of course, be difficult for international law -- and for the media
-- to draw the lines of subtle distinction routinely drawn by domestic
criminal law. This is because domestic law operates on a retail basis -- one
person and one case at a time. International law and media reporting about
terrorism tend to operate on more of a wholesale basis -- with body counts,
civilian neighborhoods and claims of collective punishment.
But the recognition that "civilianality" is often a matter of degree, rather
than a bright line, should still inform the assessment of casualty figures
in wars involving terrorists, paramilitary groups and others who fight
without uniforms -- or help those who fight without uniforms.
Turning specifically to the current fighting between Israel and Hezbollah
and Hamas, the line between Israeli soldiers and civilians is relatively
clear. Hezbollah missiles and Hamas rockets target and hit Israeli
restaurants, apartment buildings and schools. They are loaded with
anti-personnel ball-bearings designed specifically to maximize civilian
Hezbollah and Hamas militants, on the other hand, are difficult to
distinguish from those "civilians" who recruit, finance, harbor and
facilitate their terrorism. Nor can women and children always be counted as
civilians, as some organizations do. Terrorists increasingly use women and
teenagers to play important roles in their attacks.
The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave
those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those
who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some -- those who
cannot leave on their own -- should be counted among the innocent victims.
If the media were to adopt this "continuum," it would be informative to
learn how many of the "civilian casualties" fall closer to the line of
complicity and how many fall closer to the line of innocence.
Every civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others.
Left I on the News
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