Monday, May 12, 2008

What to do about U.S. Government Endorsed Torture

I saw an interview with Phillippe Sands, the author of Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law. (Read a review of the book from The Guardian.) Sands, a legal scholar, interviewed a number of the principals in the decisions on types of interrogation techniques to be used after 9/11 and concluded that torture actually had taken place. His key suggestions are that the situation should be fully investigated, and if indeed high level officials did decide to order procedures that were in contravention of international conventions and U.S. law, they should be brought to justice. He further suggested that the roles of the lawyers involved similarly be investigated, and if they were complicit in illegal activities that they also be brought to justice.

Sands' position seems reasonable to me. In a democracy, finding out whether laws have been broken by public officials is fundamental. This is perhaps as central an element of "knowledge for development" as one can imagine.

So too is a system of justice that subjects everyone to the rule of law. If lawyers advise corporate executives how to break the law, or indeed advise mafia bosses how to do so, then they are complicit in the law breaking that takes place and should be brought to justice. So too should high government officials who can be proven to have violated the law. The legal knowledge system is critical to the development of knowledge that serves the democratic processes.

It is important to protect basic human rights, and the right not to be tortured is indeed enthroned in international and U.S. law. A system for the legal protection of human rights, especially a system of protection from infringement by the government, is a crucial element in social development.

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