Friday, December 21, 2007

Jews and Torture Update

Last month, I started my post "Jews and Torture" with a profile of Attorney General Michael Mukasey from the Jewish Daily Forward. This week, the Forward has published an article entitled, "As Torture Debate Heats Up, Jewish Groups Stay Mum".

Author Marc Perelman writes "The American Jewish Committee last week became the first, and to date only, mainstream Jewish group to give strong public backing to proposed legislation that would ban the use of torture by American military, intelligence and law-enforcement personnel" and notes, "Most other Jewish organizations with prominent advocacy efforts in Washington, however, have been noticeably absent from efforts to push through the anti-torture legislation and from the broader national debate about the alleged use of enhanced interrogation techniques by American security forces."

He continues:
Last month, the issue of waterboarding nearly derailed the Senate confirmation of federal judge Michael Mukasey as attorney general. During his confirmation hearings, Mukasey repeatedly refused to state that waterboarding constituted torture. ...

Mukasey is Jewish, as is his chief supporter in the Senate, New York Democrat Charles Schumer. ...

As the anti-terrorist measures adopted by the Bush administration come under increasing fire, Jewish groups have been scrambling to find the right balance between national security concerns and their traditional defense of human rights.
The piece ends with some spin that should be instructive about the whole matter vis-a-vis the Jewish community:
The executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America, Rabbi Brian Walt, said that the reluctance of a large segment of the organized Jewish community to speak out against harsh interrogation techniques stems partly from the belief that torture may help to prevent terrorist attacks, as well as from concern that heightened scrutiny of American security forces’ methods could draw increased attention to Israel’s own interrogation practices.

“This is ironic,” he said, noting that Israel’s Supreme Court banned torture in 1999, “since Israel has a better record than the U.S. on this.”
The good Rabbi just told a bald-faced lie (or else he is willfully ignorant). The Supreme Court of Israel functionally legalized torture in its 1999 ruling in The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel vs. The Government of Israel et al. As Norman Finkelstein has pointed in Beyond Chutzpah (p. 165), even pro-Israel torture advocate Alan Dershowitz, "himself acknowledged that it did not absolutely prohibit torture: '[T]he Supreme Court left open the possibility that a member of the security service who honestly believed that rough interrogation was the only means available to save lives in imminent danger could raise this defense.' "

B'Tselem and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel have shown that the ruling did virtually nothing to impede the routine use of torture by agents of the Israeli government. Torture is and has long been routine in the Jewish state. According to the December, 2006, report of the United Against Torture Coalition to Combat Torture in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories: "Under Israeli criminal law, there is no specific offence of torture." Take a look also at "Report: High Court permits torture of Palestinians" in the 5/30/07 online edition of the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot.

Addendum: Jeffrey Blankfort read the same Forward article that I did, below are his comments from a 12/20/07 e-mail. The formatting is Blankfort's with the text in bold being quoted from the Forward article and the added hyperlink is mine.
"There was a shocking silence of the Jewish community on the issue of torture, and there is still a lacuna on this vital issue, to my eye," said Felice Gaer, director of the AJCommittee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. "All Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, need to be more vocal on this matter… Jews particularly know that torture is antithetical to everything in our tradition, ethics and outlook."

The only reason that the AJ Committee is taking this position is because it functions as the international arm, the State Dept., if you will, of the American Jewish establishment and in its overseas dealings it has to be above reproach on this issue. It's main task at the moment as it has been for the past two years is to drum up support for a US attack on Iran.

"This is ironic," he said, noting that Israel’s Supreme Court banned torture in 1999, "since Israel has a better record than the U.S. on this."

It sure is ironic because one of the known methods of torture that has been used by US soldiers in Iran and Afghanistan is what is known as "Palestinian hanging." Now who could possible have invented that? And does anyone, including the person who said this, seriously believe that Israel has stopped torturing arrestees? JB
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Last revised: 12/22/2007

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