11 Feb 2011
Heymann versus Dershowitz
Philip Heymann and Alan Dershowitz, both professors at the prestigious Harvard University, have developed different theories about the torture as a tool for extorting information from terrorists in their works “Torture Should Not Be Authorized.” and “Yes, It Should Be ‘On the Books’” respectively . Although their opinions intersect at many points, they are somewhat different.
Professor Heymann’s experience as a former attorney general in Clinton’s administration has provided him with a closer look on the government policies about interrogation and torture; therefore, he has built up his own opinion on whether torture should be allowed as a method for extracting information. According to his observations, torture should not be authorized, because it is a “bad and dangerous idea that can easily sound plausible”. (174)
The first argument he points out is that the people who want to legalize torture actually are looking for a legal way of torturing or even murdering people who may turn out to be innocent. Heymann says that the only thing that is needed is a reason (valid or not) to justify the way they are playing with other people’s life. As soon as the circumstances, under which the torture would be applicable, are defined, Heymann foresees that the practice of torture will become far too common.
As the professor mentions, the fear of being prosecuted for torturing a prisoner restrains the officials for now, but if there existed a warrant that justifies their actions, all the other legal, and moreover – humane methods such as wiretapping and emergency searches would be put aside. Once the circumstances are defined – we are sure there is an activated bomb, the suspect is aware of where it is, there is no chance to get it moved in the meantime and so on, the torture would become the ordinary practice.
Moreover, as professor Heymann notes, if torture is legitimized, judges will...