IGA-347: Human Rights and National Security: The Case of Torture

Semester: Spring

Credit: 4.0

Syllabus: Click here for syllabus


Day Time Location
Term Start Date 1/22
Meet Day T/Th 11:45 AM - 1:00 PM Littauer Bldg 332 (HKS)


The course explores in depth how the use of torture became both strategy and policy in Washington. Through that prism, it asks and challenges students to explore deeper political, legal, constitutional, and ethical questions about how a strong, well-institutionalized, democratic political system could violate its own laws and the international conventions to which it has subscribed. We will look broadly at US national security and how it was affected by the decision to deploy cruel interrogation methods and torture as part of the "war on terrorism." In doing so, the course seeks to quantify and specify the range of costs and consequences to U.S. interests and standing in the world, as well as how it affected national policies and global institutions.  What led to this use of cruel interrogation methods by a democratic political system? Where and how could a supposedly robust system of institutionalized checks and balances so completely fail? How did U.S. institutions, including Congress and the judiciary, respond?  How adequate are these safeguards now that public opinion has shifted to accept torture’s use?  We will study the findings of the US Senate Intelligence Committee and its claims that the CIA engaged in a pattern of lying to Congress and the President on the dimensions and effectiveness of the interrogation program, raising questions about the structures and accountabilities of US national security systems. Students will become acquainted with relevant treaties and mechanisms established to prevent torture and other sources of knowledge about the issue, thus building a deeper understanding of what constitutes cruelty and torture.  The course will introduce students to insightful readings about enhanced interrogation methods, including previously classified memos, as well as literature in medicine, psychology, and sociology. Through lectures and discussions with former policymakers, top officials, and investigators, the course will examine historical, normative, constitutional, and international aspects of the issue.

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