Alan Dershowitz

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Alan Dershowitz

Alan Dershowitz (born September 1, 1938) is a leading legal scholar in the United States. He has spent most of his career at Harvard Law School, where at the age of 28 he became the youngest full professor in the law school's history, and is now the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law. In addition to his teaching, Dershowitz is a prolific author, has made frequent media and public speaking appearances, and has worked on a number of high-profile legal cases.


  • In representing criminal defendants—especially guilty ones—it is often necessary to take the offensive against the government: to put the government on trial for its misconduct. In law, as in sports, the best defense is often a good offense.
  • The courtroom oath—to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—is applicable only to witnesses... because the American justice system is built on a foundation of not telling the whole entire truth.
    • Alan Dershowitz, The Best Defense (New York: Vintage), 1983-5-12, p. xiv.
  • As one civil-liberties lawyer, who is concerned about the sometimes vigilante attitude toward accused rapists, puts it: "Some people regard rape as so heinous an offense that they would not even regard innocence as a defense."
  • I am a skeptic about everything, including God and atheism. I am not certain about issues of cosmology.… I am more certain that the miraculous stories that form the basis of most religious beliefs are myths. Yet I respect the Bible and enjoy reading and teaching it. Indeed, I find it even more fascinating as a human creation than as a divine revelation. I consider myself a committed Jew, but I do not believe that being a Jew requires belief in the supernatural.… Indeed, it is while praying that I experience my greatest doubts about God, and it is while looking at the stars that I make the leap of faith.… If there is a governing force, He (or She or It) is certainly not in touch with those who purport to be speaking on His behalf.
    • "Taking Disbelief Out of the Closet", Free Inquiry, 19(3), p. 7, Summer 1999.
  • I have no doubt that if an actual ticking bomb situation were to arise, our law enforcement authorities would torture. The real debate is whether such torture should take place outside of our legal system or within it. The answer to this seems clear: If we are to have torture, it should be authorized by the law.
    • "Is There a Torturous Road to Justice?", The Los Angles Times, 2001-11-08
  • Here is my proposal. Israel should announce an immediate unilateral cessation in retaliation against terrorist attacks. This moratorium would be in effect for a short period, say four or five days, to give the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to respond to the new policy. It would also make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending what has become a cycle of violence. Following the end of the moratorium, Israel would institute the following new policy if Palestinian terrorism were to resume. It will announce precisely what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism. For example, it could announce the first act of terrorism following the moratorium will result in the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave, and then troops will come in and bulldoze all of the buildings.
    • "New response to Palestinian terrorism", The Jerusalem Post, 2002-03-11
  • Dershowitz: The Israeli military then did an analysis, and they discovered, of course, that when they dropped that bomb and killed those people, they had no idea that those people were in the building, and the people who made the decision to drop the bomb were criticized and disciplined for it. The point I make is, when they knew, for sure, that family members were there, they withheld doing it. That doesn't deny the fact that on occasion they will accidentally make a decision that's wrong. The difference is deliberateness, willfulness…
    Norman Finkelstein: …That was a nice fairy tale, dropping a 1 ton bomb on a densely populated civilian neighborhood in Gaza, and they had no idea that civilians would be there. And then he goes on to fantasy #2, that those who did it were disciplined. Really, Mr. Dershowitz? I'd love the evidence for that. I mean, if I could get $10,000 for every one of your fraudulent statements…
  • You will find that the number of Israeli casualties among civilians exceeds the number of Palestinian casualties among (pause) innocent civilians who were noncombatants and not involved in any way in terrorism, and were killed by the Israelis, as distinguished from being killed by Palestinian (pause) terrorists as collaborators! That is simply a fact-I know of no source that disputes that!
  • The threat of mutually assured destruction worked for the United States during the Cold War because it had proved its willingness to drop nuclear bombs on enemy cities at the end of World War II. It might work less well for Israel, because the Israeli Air Force has never deliberately targeted a large civilian population center, and its leaders have said its morality would not permit it do so.
    • Preemption: A knife that cuts both ways, p. 100 (published 2007-2-17).
  • That is why a criminal trial is not a search for truth. Scientists search for truth. Philosophers search for morality. A criminal trial searches for only one result: proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • 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.

    • "'Civilian casualty'? That's a gray area", Los Angeles Times, 2006-07-22

U.S. News & World Report (August 9, 1982)[edit]

  • The defendant wants to hide the truth because he's generally guilty. The defense attorney's job is to make sure the jury does not arrive at that truth. [specific citation needed]
  • The prosecution... wants to make sure the process by which the evidence was obtained is not truthfully presented, because, as often as not, that process will raise questions. [specific citation needed]
  • The judge also has a truth he wants to hide: He often hasn’t been completely candid in describing the facts or the law. [specific citation needed]

Criticism of Alan Dershowitz[edit]

  • Elaine Kendall of the Los Angeles Times calls Dershowitz "the attorney of last resort for the desperate and despised, counselor for lost causes and forlorn hopes."
  • Dershowitz is not only a remarkable liar and slanderer, but also an extreme opponent of elementary civil rights.
  • As much as people dismiss him (Dershowitz) as a clown and charlatan and roll their eyes ­ the fact of the matter is that he very effectively makes use of his Harvard pedigree ­ it is a distinguished university and he has an eminent chair of that university and he makes use of those credentials to lend credibility to his work
  • Dershowitz does not engage the debate in this country about Israel on the factual, legal, moral, and humanitarian merits because he knows that his client is "guilty" of violating international law in its occupation of the Palestinian territories
    • Howard Friel [3]

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