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Torture: A Collection Paperback – August 10, 2006

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195306460 ISBN-10: 0195306465 Edition: Revised

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Revised edition (August 10, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195306465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195306460
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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46 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Torture A Collection, by Sanford Levinson (book review)

Sanford Levinson the editor has been and is an eloquent voice against torture and his intention in drawing together this collection is clearly to educate and raise awareness of a difficult subject to think about let alone put into written words. His introduction acknowledges that lawyers can only go so far in speaking about the reality of torture and he laments the fact that he could not get a professional Army investigator to contribute to this collection.

Much of the writing in this book is post 9/11. This terrible event brought home to United States citizens their vulnerability to horrific terrorist attacks on a grand scale. Since terrorists by definition operate in secret, preventing attacks relies heavily on information gained before an attack. That raises the question, how to get the information? One of the ways is through interrogation of suspects who might have knowledge of imminent attacks. But if time is of the essence what is to be done with potential suspects in custody. If they will not voluntarily provide information can they be forced to give it up through pressure, coercive techniques or even torture, physical or mental. Sanford's book is intent on exploring this issue from as many sides as possible: i.e., political, philosophical, legal, moral, historical, even theological. The sincerity of the editor-author and contributors is further underlined by the fact that all royalties from this book will be donated to The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition otherwise known as TASSC International.

This is a book for scholars, students, and laymen and concerned citizens. Since Mr.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ewaffle on August 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
Even those who wield the implements of torture know that what they are doing is inhuman. This is a collection of essays that looks at various aspects of state sponsored torment and agony and is particularly valuable for the exchange between Alan Dershowitz and Ellen Scarry in which the author of "The Body in Pain" completely shreds Dershowitz's specious and dangerous arguments in favor of torture.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul Froehlich on May 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
While President Obama ended the use of torture, the debate about it has continued. The Senate report this year on the inefficacy of torture in the capture of Bin Laden elicited heated criticism from Republicans, and the debate over torture may be renewed for the 2016 election. Sarah Palin told the NRA Convention in April 2014 that “enemies of the United States carry out jihad. If I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we would baptize terrorists.”

It’s timely, therefore, to review the collection of essays about torture by 17 scholars edited by Sanford Levinson, who reminds us that ending torture was offered as a reason to invade Iraq. “There is no way,” writes Levinson,” to avoid the moral difficulties generated by the possibility of torture. We are staring into the abyss, and no one can escape the necessity of a response.”


In a nation purportedly of laws and not of men, it’s appropriate to look at the law. In 1948, torture was outlawed by adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1975, the UN passed the Declaration against Torture. In 1976, two UN conventions against human rights violations were adopted making torture a crime against humanity.

The US Senate ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. A key article states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever…may be invoked as a justification for torture.” Another article bans rendition: “No State Party shall, expel, return or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Art. 2, 3 reads: “An order from a superior officer may not be invoked as a justification for torture.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I give it five stars, because it achieves what it attempts to. This is a collection of influential pieces that are meant to familiarize individuals with the subject matter. However, like all collections it regrettably leaves out certain pieces, but this is a flaw of all collections. I recommend this product to anyone interested in the subject matter, but I do believe it shouldn’t be the only material you reference for both your academic and personal beliefs
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