Torture Debate Spotlights Importance of Global Ban
November 1, 2005

As Congress considers new legislation reinforcing the ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, a new book illuminates the practice of torture around the world and examines how recent policy shifts in the United States have undermined the global ban on torture.

Called “required reading” in the November issue of Vanity Fair, Torture: Does It Make Us Safer, Is It Ever OK? is an up-to-the-minute exploration of this wrenching topic. Now available in bookstores, the book is published by the New Press and Human Rights Watch.

Revelations of torture and degradation at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. detention facilities have galvanized both proponents and opponents of torture.

“Who would have thought we would still be debating the use of torture?” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch and co-editor of the book. “But when a government as dominant and influential as the United States openly defies the absolute ban on mistreating detainees, its conduct jeopardizes prisoners everywhere.”

In this new book, essays by leading thinkers and experts cross continents and centuries to offer a timely exploration of the global debates on torture—the legality of the practice, the extent of its use, the pain it inflicts and its questionable effectiveness.

In his contribution to the book, former prisoner of war Senator John McCain argues against throwing out the Geneva Conventions’ prohibitions on torture. Last month, in a 90-9 vote, the U.S. Senate approved a measure sponsored by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham that would, contrary to Bush administration policy, prohibit the military and CIA from using “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” for any detainee in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.

In his introduction, Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth sets out how the shifting U.S. position has undermined the global prohibition on torture. Tom Malinowski reveals how the U.S. is engaging in practices that its own State Department regularly condemns when performed by other governments around the world.

In other chapters, Michael Ignatieff counters Alan Dershowitz’s controversial “ticking time-bomb” scenario as a justification for using torture, and Israeli human rights advocate Eitan Felner spotlights Israel’s failed experiment legalizing the mistreatment of detainees in supposed emergency situations.

British barrister Cherie Booth writes about sexual violence and the torture of women. Sir Nigel Rodley, the former United Nations torture rapporteur, tells of his experiences negotiating with torturers worldwide.

Juan Méndez, U.N. special advisor on genocide prevention, writes for the first time about his own horrific experience of torture. Argentine Consul General Héctor Timerman gives a harrowing account of the Argentine military dictatorship’s torture of his father and the impact this had on his family.

“For a number of the writers in this book, torture is not an abstract concept,” said Minky Worden, media director of Human Rights Watch and co-editor of the book. “These voices and perspectives will lead even the staunchest backers of torture to question their beliefs.”