Roth Denounces Legalizing Torture

Human Rights Watch executive director says torture may create more terrorists

Rebecca R. Friedman

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, discusses human rights and terrorism yesterday in the Winthrop House Library.

The executive director of Human Rights Watch, an organization which investigates and reports on human rights abuses worldwide, said yesterday that the United States should not legalize torture at a talk in Winthrop House yesterday.

“Are we stopping and arresting more terrorists than we generate?” Kenneth Roth asked, paraphrasing the words of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Roth told an audience of around 20 students that this particular question should shape U.S. policy-making about torture and terrorism.

He said that if the United States allowed torture in certain circumstances it would generate the need to keep a torture squad in the country which overtime would try to become more active. Roth added that courts, which would make rulings on torture cases, could make “reckless” decisions.

Torture has been actively discussed in the U.S. ever since the Abu Ghraib case, when American military personnel tortured Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq.

Roth said that two Harvard professors—Alan M. Dershowitz, Frankfurter Professor of Law, and Juliette Kayyem, a lecturer in Public Policy at the JFK School, have advocated the legalization of torture in the United States.

Roth said that they might have the best intentions in mind, but that they overlook crucial problems in their proposal.

Instead of focusing on torturing terrorists to make them talk, the United States should fight terrorism by combatting active terrorists, deterring “would-be terrorists,” and punishing those who have already commited terrorists acts, Roth said.

Roth said that most useful information about terrorist attacks is gathered from the general public. Legalizing torture, he said, would make people more reluctant to help the police since people who oppose the tactic might be afraid that the information they provide could lead to the torture of an individual.

He added that legalizing torture would not deter new attacks because it would lead to rage in the home countries of terrorists—possibly leading to more terrorists.

As for his third point, Roth said that legalization does not help punish terrorists since in the United States, testimony gained through torture cannot be used in courts of law.

“People always find an excuse to hate America, but we don’t have to make it easier,” he said.