[Marxism] A new low (?) for the execrable Alan Dershowitz

Eli Stephens 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 
and punished.

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.

Eli Stephens
  Left I on the News

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