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Haaretz Publishes Pseudonymous Apologia for Torture, and They’ll Make You Pay to Read It
Richard Silverstein
Tikun Olam

Imagine you’re the op-ed page editor of the NY Times and a CIA torturer comes forward who wants to publish an anonymous op-ed not just defending torture, but arguing that any and all acts in which he engages should be retroactively approved by the State and its judicial bodies. In other words, he’s arguing that every torturer who ever works for the security services should begin his career knowing that any act of torture he commits will automatically offer him immunity from prosecution. All this on the grounds that the good he does for his fellow citizens and the State far outweighs any harm done.

If this didn’t set off a few alarm bells, then I’d say you shouldn’t be working at the NY Times. Maybe the Washington Times, but certainly not the NY Times. Apparently, this didn’t happen at Haaretz, which just published precisely such an apologia for torture. What disturbs me is not so much the substance of the op-ed, though that’s disturbing enough. But the fact that the newspaper, Israel’s supposed leading liberal media outlet, published this under the pseudonym, “Captain Simon.” I’m betting Haaretz won’t publish this torturer’s screed in English. Otherwise, it would disturb the image that Diaspora Jews hold of the newspaper as a beacon of liberty and civility.

The column revolves around the misdeeds of Doron Zahavi, the torturer who dare not speak his name in Israel, where he is known as “Captain George.” Zahavi sodomized a Lebanese militant named Mustafa Dirani in order to extract information about the whereabouts of Israeli captive pilot, Ron Arad. Dirani filed suit against his torturers and was eventually released from the IDF torture facility where he’d been held. His trial is still pending.

The case against Zahavi was buttressed by a fellow officer who appears to have broken under the pressure of the torture regime he enforced. He was deposed as part of the legal case by Dirani against Zahavi. Now, Zahavi is suing the State for hanging him out to dry. He’s demanding over a million bucks for being sacked from the IDF’s infamous Unit 504 (the torturer’s brigade of Israeli military intelligence), and the suffering it caused him. He now serves as police liaison to the Jerusalem Arab community where he’s right at home bullying its members into becoming spies for him.

Capt. Simon’s piece is a fulsome defense of Zahavi, trumpeting the glory of torturing the bad guys on behalf of the greater good of the nation:

It’s just Captain George’s luck that the videotapes of his interrogation of Dirani reached the hands of the TV news magazine, Uvdah (Israel’s 60 Minutes). It allowed us all to see that the investigation process was fully documented and everything was done fully by the book and under proper authority. This was not violence for the sake of violence. These are methods of interrogation that are consistent with established procedure and reasonable. Everyone knew [what Zahavi was doing]. Everyone encouraged him and approved. Imagine to yourself what everyone would’ve said had Captain George succeeded in freeing Ron Arad [through torture]. We would’ve embraced him and extolled his virtues.

Unit 504 is one of the most extraordinary in the IDF. There are wonderful, extremely skilled personnel. They are brave, determined and wise in understanding the souls of men as well as their weaknesses. It’s critical to protect the nature of the work of this unit by offering its members full immunity.

I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but if this doesn’t make you throw up, nothing will:

…By the way, we are far more refined and cultured in our interrogations than those of other western countries, including those of American interrogators.

We’ve heard this all before, though perhaps in a slightly more subdued fashion from the Cheneys and Boltons of American politics. For that reason, I don’t have a problem with publishing it, even though it’s nonsense. My real problem is giving the author an anonymous platform to spew this garbage. Where is the accountability? Where is journalistic integrity?

Not to mention, do you think Haaretz will publish any accompanying op-ed that calls Simon’s claims, that the torturers actually succeed in exposing acts of terror through their use of savage beatings and acts of rape, rubbish? Unfortunately, while there are Pulitzer Prizes for the best in journalism, there are no prizes for the worst. There should be. This op-ed is one of the worst I’ve seen. I wonder if any Haaretz reporters are chafing at this offensive insult to the profession.

The news that Haaretz is about to begin forcing its web readers to pay for access to its English edition does little for my sense of enthusiasm for the paper in light of the garbage I’ve critiqued above.

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