From Publishers Weekly
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.
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"This superior collection of essays by 17 leading scholars provides a timely, penetrating investigation into this morally challenging but important topic.... It is a pleasure to read an edited book in which the chapters speak to each other. This is a well-crafted study in political ethics."--Choice
" Few of this book's contributors want to engage in polemics, and few--to their credit--ever seem completely comfortable with their own conclusions."--The New York Times Book Review
"[C]omprehensive and thought-provoking." --The American Lawyer
"Sanford Levinson has done us all a tremendous service in compiling this rich set of essays on a highly compelling and timely topic." -- Ethics and International Affairs
"Conceived wll before the Abu Ghraib story broke, Levinson's collection of essays by philosophers and lawyers provides a cooler, though not dispassionate, look at the issues surrounding torture. Contributors include Jean Bethke Elshtain, Richard Posner, Michael Walzer, and the inevitable Alan Dershowitz.... The collection considers the conditions under which torture might nonetheless be acceptable--notably, the 'ticking bomb' scenario, when the quick extraction of information can save many lives. Dershowitz argues that the normative case against torture remains strong but that under such conditions inhibitions will be overcome--and that it is best that any torturous interrogation be explicit and controlled. His critics denounce such a move as bringing torture into the realm of the legitimate. Other problems are raised, such as identifying the point at which pressure becomes torture."--Foreign Affairs
"Closely argued, well written, and quite readable, these essays jointly constitute a valuable contribution to the field."--Library Journal
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