Karen Greenberg’s evasion

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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karenjgreenberg
Karen J. Greenberg

Karen Greenberg, a leading human rights thinker and source for Max Blumenthal’s important piece on the Israelification of American security procedures, has now said that Blumenthal made up the quotes, or misquoted her, it’s not entirely clear. She did so at the auspices of the Israel lobby– Jeffrey Goldberg.

Initially, Greenberg told Blumenthal:

“After 9/11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture… The training in Iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now we’re going to spread that into the fabric of everyday American life? It’s counter-terrorism creep. And it’s exactly what you could have predicted would have happened.”

Now she said to Goldberg:

“I never made such a statement. I’ve never seen any proof of this. I told him I had heard a story out there about this issue, but that he should look into it and see if he could find evidence, because I have no proof of this charge. You have to be particularly careful when it comes to torture, you have to be careful not to overreach. He was looking for corroboration but I told him I didn’t have any.”

Then she told Mother Jones that she might have said this stuff:

“What I remembered saying to him was you ought to look at these allegations that others have made about Israeli training in interrogation techniques. I did not intend to assert these allegations as fact…the entire sense of the quote is inaccurate.”

The story is at once laughable and disturbing.

It’s pretty clear, based on Max Blumenthal’s notes of the interview, which he allowed me to publish at the bottom here, that even if Greenberg was echoing others’ findings, she believes these findings to be true. Greenberg is an intellectual, and intellectuals do this all the time: they echo stuff they think is important, in their own words. Blumenthal says Greenberg brought the subject up, and as for “others,” she mentioned only one other source by name. From his notes of her words:

The Israelification of the entire security apparatus in the US is worth a book…. It’s worth some thought. After 9 11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture. The training in Iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now were gonna spread that into our cities. It’s counter terrorism creep.

Furthermore, the idea that the U.S. picked up torture techniques from Israel is not even controversial in Greenberg’s intellectual circle. A book that acknowledges Karen Greenberg’s friendship, The Dark Side by Jane Mayer (2008), addresses this issue directly. After 9/11 the CIA reached out to allies who had dealt with terror suspects. “Another former CIA official active at the time said the Agency also consulted closely with Israel….’The Israelis taught us that you can put a towel around a guy’s neck and use it like a collar, to propel him headfirst into a wall.'” Etc.

Greenberg’s own book, The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib, edited with Joshua Dratel, is aimed at documenting the Bush administration’s path to embracing torture. I haven’t read it (it’s 800+ pages) but I see that it includes a discussion of Israeli torture policy. So this book addresses the very issue she brought up with Max Blumenthal: Israeli influence on the US treatment of detainees. 

The disturbing part of this story is that any criticisms of Israel are so politically loaded that Greenberg, an insider if ever there was one, has to run away from her own views when they sneak out. That torture book, for instance, opens with an introduction by Anthony Lewis in which he praises the Israeli Supreme Court rulings on torture.

Greenberg is a leading left-lib figure in foreign policy circles because she has been so careful about what she’s said. Until this fall, when she moved to Fordham University, Greenberg ran the Center for Law and Security at NYU and ran it well: which is to say– she criticized the hell out of the United States on such matters as Abu Ghraib, but avoided direct criticism of Israel.

Here’s a list of the Center’s special concerns:

Special Topics in the Middle East and Muslim Communities Concentrating on Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; radicalization and deradicalization; and al Qaeda.

The Middle East and Islam– but let’s not talk about Israel and Palestine. I looked through the Center’s publications, and Israel and Palestine almost never come up. For instance, this issue of the center’s quarterly review that Greenberg edited on fighting terror is filled with criticism of the Bush administration, but the Israeli penchant for torture is handled with kid gloves: There is a piece by Yigal Mersel, Senior Legal Assistant to President Aharon Barak, of the Supreme Court of Israel— who at the time was a scholar at NYU. (The Israelification of academia is worth a book…)

This typifies Greenberg’s careful approach. She is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is to say part of the pro-Israel Establishment. Last year I heard her introduce a talk by Noah Feldman, a liberal Zionist, at which he said in so many words that Islam and democracy are irreconcilable. She also had Lawrence Wright as a fellow— the New Yorker writer whose trip to Gaza was so disappointing to anyone who cares about human rights.

And lately, just as Greenberg was leaving the Center, it hosted Jane Harman, the diehard Israel lobbyist, to speak. What a coup!

In the end, this is a story about how embedded the Israel lobby is in the Democratic establishment– and how craven even leaders like Karen Greenberg are as a result. Yesterday, for instance, Politico said that the Center for American Progress has Israel critics working for it– and sure enough, CAP issued a clarification by the end of the day, insisting we’re for Israel’s longterm security. I met Greenberg once with Max Blumenthal (they were friends) and remember the three of us sharing some snarky comments about Israel– it’s not a country she adores. But she’ll be damned if she says a public word against it.

Here are Blumenthal’s notes:

The Israelification of the entire security apparatus in the US is worth a book. Coordination of mayors is unprecedented. It’s not of course. It’s worth some thought. After 9 11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture. The training in iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now were gonna spread that into our cities. It’s counter terrorism creep. And it’s exactly what you coulud have predicted what would have happened. Why don’t we talk about Israeli coordination in public? The reason is the kind of things they taught us would require a major discussion. After 9 11 we had to react very quickly but now were in 2011 and were not talking about people who want to fly planes into buildings, were talking about young American citizens who feel that their birthright has been sold. And were using Israeli tactics on them? If this stuff bleeds into the way we do business at large were in trouble. To put these occupiers in a category of counterterrorism is philosophically dangerous and incorrect. It has implications in terms of who decides who an enemy is. Bit by bit we’ve allowed a creeping broadening of that category and it’s become closer and closer to Americans. It suggests that the walls that we built around this definition of terrorism can be expanded to whatever we want. Kids are not terrorists and it’s inappropriate to label them that way.

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