cover image TORTURE: A Collection

TORTURE: A Collection

Richard A. Posner, . . Oxford Univ., $29.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-19-517813-5

While the legal prohibition on torture is among the most absolute—its status is akin to slavery and genocide in international law—many of the prominent lawyers, philosophers, political scientists and other thinkers contributing to this provocative yet sober collection acknowledge that torture can be an acceptable option in an extreme situation, such as the interrogation of a captured terrorist who has knowledge of a "ticking bomb." In four sections of three to six essays each—"Philosophical Considerations"; "Torture as Practiced"; "Contemporary Attempts to Abolish Torture Through Law"; and "Reflections on the Post 9-11 Debate About Legalizing Torture"—authors grapple with whether the moral legitimacy of torture in extreme cases should receive legal sanction, or whether a disjunction between law and morality is preferable. The stage is set at the outset with Michael Walzer's classic essay on the problem of "dirty hands," i.e., how one stays loyal to moral principles when confronted with the difficult task of governing. The historical section recounts American, European and South American experiences with secret, illegal and tacitly sanctioned torture. Several essays in the legal section consider the case of Israel, whose Supreme Court outlawed coercive interrogation in 1999; other essays consider the United Nations Torture Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. The final section is a thought-provoking debate among Alan Dershowitz, Elaine Scarry, Judge Richard Posner and Richard H. Weisberg regarding the aftermath of 9/11. (Oct.)