IGA-347: Torture and Public Policy

Semester: Spring

Credit: 4.0

Syllabus: Click here for syllabus


Day Time Location
Term Start Date 1/23
Meet Day M/W 11:45 AM - 1:00 PM Littauer Bldg 382 (HKS)


Reports emerging from the Senate Intelligence Committee on interrogation conclude that the CIA used far harsher interrogation than authorized to many more people than previously reported with far less success in intelligence gathering -- perhaps even no success whatsoever -- than had been previously asserted; the report also documents a pattern of lying both to Congress and to the President himself on all these and other dimensions of the interrogation program. This new information comes on top of previously documented failures by top administration officials to abide by ratified treaties, long standing laws, bypassing a set of procedures designed to provide checks and balances that would prevent bad policy development. The case of the decision to use torture and cruelty as a central component of America's war against terror presents a rare opportunity to understand how policy making could go so wrong. This course will examine the basis of this thinking historically, normatively, and constitutionally and consider the freedom from torture as it is constituted in international law, one of the few such rights that has been given the special status of "non-derogable. "The course will acquaint students with the treaties and mechanisms established to prevent torture and other sources of knowledge about torture that are available to consult to understand what constitutes cruelty and torture, including the fields of medicine, psychology, sociology and law. The course will look broadly at US national security issues and how they were affected by the decision to use cruelty and torture as part of the US "war against terrorism," and seek to quantify and specify the full range of costs and consequences to American security because of this decision. Through the prism of this decision, the course will examine what is known of the decision process that led to the policy of cruelty to understand where and how a supposedly robust system of checks and balances could so completely fail. Students will draw on these various lines of enquiry to answer this question: How can we move the ban on cruelty and torture from its current status as apolicy decision to once again stand as an inviolable and inherent right of all persons.

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