The E-News site has been inactive since February 2011 and may contain outdated information and/or broken links. For current and up-to-date Tufts news and information, please visit Tufts Now at
Tufts University e-news

Search  GO >

this site people
Tufts University Logo Bottom Search Bottom  
left side photo

The Legality Of Torture

The Legality Of TortureThedecision to use torture raises a complicated set of moral andlegal questions that are not easily resolved, say Tufts experts.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.03.05] Often hidden from the public eye, the torture of militaryprisoners made international headlines following the Abu Ghraibprison scandal, which broke after photographs surfaced of Americantroops torturing and humiliating Iraqi detainees. The story touchedoff a military investigation and prompted a probing discussionamong scholars, officials and citizens about the ethics of torture.

“Ifyou've caught someone and you know that person has information,then torture for tactical information is justifiable. But if itcannot produce useful information, it is morally reprehensible,”Alfred Rubin, professor of international law professor at TheFletcher School, told The Boston Globe Magazine.

Rubin, whodebated the controversial issue in the Globe with CharlesKnight of the Project on Defense Alternatives at the CommonwealthInstitute in Cambridge, believes that the decision to torturecomes at the individual level.

“It'sa moral evaluation made by the person who's doing the torturing,”he explained in the Globe. “A sadist who wantsto torture is going to torture. People make up their own mindswhether or not to torture.”

However, thereare laws governing torture that are mandated by internationalcharter. Individual nations are responsible for their enforcement.

“Theenforcement of law is multifaceted, and the violation of law isserious,” explained Rubin. “The 1949 Geneva Conventionsdon't actually forbid torture; they require states to forbid it,which we do, and the same with the U.N. Convention Against Torture.”

With the AbuGhraib scandal, however, the laws were broken. Some observersbelieve that the United States tacitly approved of the torturetaking place there.

“Thoselaws have been violated in Abu Ghraib, where we were trying tokeep it a secret,” Rubin told the Globe. “Thoselaws should be enforced.”

However, Rubinadds, the 2004 election results may indicate the American populationhas accepted secret government affairs like the Abu Ghraib torturescandal.

“I thinka lot of [Americans] are prepared to say that power to keep secrecybelongs with the federal government, and they fool themselvesinto thinking they need not live with the consequences of secrecyand torture,” he said.

But a Fletchercolleague, international law professor Hurst Hannum, says thegeneral population is not totally accepting of the government’sactions.

"Thereare two issues that are bothersome to people here," Hannumtold The Christian Science Monitor. "One is theadministration's early suggestion that torture might have beenOK. The second is that the administration seems to be trying toleave itself total discretion to take what actions it needs whenconfronted with terrorists."

Hannum is also concerned with who is being heldaccountable for the acts of torture committed at Abu Ghraib.

“Itseems extremely unlikely that anyone higher up is going to beprosecuted or that any disciplinary action will be taken thathasn’t already been taken,” he told the InternationalHerald Tribune. “The good news is that they’reprosecuting and convicting people for obvious ill treatment. Thebad news is, it seems to be a small number.”







Related Stories
Featured Profile