Americans may have to consider ideas as foreign as
truth serums and torture warrants when thinking about
striking a balance between liberty and security after
the terrorist attacks Sept. 11.
That was the
message celebrity lawyer and civil libertarian Alan M.
Dershowitz delivered to a crowd packed into a gymnasium
Sunday at the Jewish Community Center in Creve Coeur.
Dershowitz was the opening speaker for the Jewish Book
He originally was scheduled to talk about
his book "Supreme Injustice," a critical account of the
Supreme Court's ruling on the presidential election last
year. But Dershowitz instead turned his comments to
"I'm not in the mood to start
being critical of the legitimacy of the president at a
time like this," he said.
Dershowitz said he
always supported the philosophy that it was better to
let criminals go free than to unjustly detain innocent
people. But he suggested that terrorist acts should make
civil rights activists readjust their thinking on some
The American Civil Liberties Union nearly
revoked his membership for suggesting that national
identity cards should be required, he said. The cards
would carry basic information - a person's name and
Social Security number - and a picture, he
Law enforcement officials and security
workers could request to see the cards to verify the
identity of a person at any time, he said. The civil
libertarians are opposed to such a measure because they
say it would violate the right to
Dershowitz counters that the measure
does not violate privacy rights but does take away a
guarantee of anonymity that terrorists have used to
It's time to reassess laws and
decide how to deal with situations that may arise when
dealing with terrorists, he said. Legislators should
evaluate and revise quarantine laws before a wholesale
bioterrorism attack strikes the United States, he said,
calling the current anthrax attacks "retail
Americans need to consider what
measures should be allowed to get information from
unwilling terror suspects, he said. After law
enforcement officials have asked, begged, cajoled,
threatened and bribed a close-mouthed witness, they may
need to take more drastic measures to elicit vital
information, Dershowitz said.
begin thinking about whether it would be permissible to
grant the suspect immunity from prosecution and then
administer truth serum.
Even torture may not be
off the table as an information-gathering tool,
Dershowitz said. But there must be a national debate
about the circumstances in which torture is permissible
and who should have the power to decide when to use it.
Dershowitz suggested that judges could issue torture
warrants in certain cases.
Americans must plan
their approach to these disquieting issues carefully and
not allow the basic values of the country to erode, he
"If Osama bin Laden comes out with a white
flag, we'd darned well better arrest him. We're still a
country under the rule of law," Dershowitz
Dershowitz, a professor from Harvard who
has been called the lawyer of last resort, said that
even he wouldn't take bin Laden's case.
not a call I want to