"Torture, Human Rights and Terrorism"
Zalaquett with Picasso's Guernica, relating
it as part of the tradition to which Fernando Botero's
Abu Ghraib series belongs.
of this event
Neier is the President of the Open Society
Institute and an Adjunct Professor of Law at New York
José Zalaquett is
the president of the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights and a Professor of Law and co-director of the
Human Rights Center at the University of Chile’s
S. Martinez argued the 2004 case Rumsfeld
v. Padilla before the U.S. Supreme Court and
is an Associate Professor of Law at Stanford University.
Philip Zimbardo is
the former President of the American Psychological Association,
Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University,
and the author of The Lucifer Effect: Why Good People
Human Rights and Terrorism
Emil M. Ray
“Should we or should we not?” The use of torture
in the fight against terrorism has become one of the decade’s
most hotly contested issues yet trailblazers in law, psychology
and human rights were able to bring fresh perspectives to the
ongoing debate at the CLAS forum, “Torture, Human Rights
and Terrorism.” They explored torture as both the exercise
of absolute power and the logical outcome of an aspiration
for unqualified authority.
of the Open Society Institute, Aryeh Neier, framed the panelists’ remarks by stating that torture is the
act of wielding absolute power by securing the victim’s
complete submission. The desire to demonstrate power underlies
both the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib and the war in Iraq,
he argued, and the emergence of this desire was a foreseeable
reaction to the weakness exposed by the Sept. 11 attacks. “Nine-eleven
was an extraordinary demonstration of American vulnerability,” he
observed, “as enormous buildings were destroyed by 19
people armed with box cutters.” The American response
was to make a show of force in order to reassert the nation’s
Neier (speaking) emphasized the role of
power as a causal factor in the
attitude toward torture.
The effort to secure complete submission, either through
torture or military force, is doomed to fail, Neier warned,
because resistance will continue. Ultimately, he made a moral
argument, calling on the audience to reject not only the use
of torture, but also the concept of absolute power and its
political and military expressions.
next panelist, art critic and human rights lawyer José Zalaquett,
contended that art plays a significant role in reflecting upon
and rejecting the vision of absolute power. Reminding the audience
that art both reflects the times and shapes them, Zalaquett
described three phases that mark Western art’s shifting
representation of torture and war
the first phase, extending from the Renaissance to the end
of the 18 th century, art did not take a humanistic stance
on torture and war. This changed at the beginning of the
19 th century, when some artists took on the role of bearing
witness, denouncing torture and vindicating victims. Artists
such as Goya realistically and critically depicted atrocities
and political repression. His painting “The Third of May,” which
vividly portrays a public execution by firing squad, was cited
by Zalaquett as the quintessential example of this period.
The third phase, beginning around the Vietnam War, turned to
the task of preserving the collective memory and developing
a universal moral interpretation of torture and war. Works
in this period tried to convey a sense of the immensity of
atrocities spiritually rather than graphically. One example
is the Berlin Holocaust memorial, a vast field of 2,700 stone
slabs. Another is Alberto Jaar’s work, “The Eyes
of Gutete Emerita,” in which thousands of slides rest
in a mountain on a table, each containing the same image: the
eyes of one victim of the Rwandan massacre.
From these contemporary works, Zalaquett raised evocative
questions. Can art help to redistribute power? Can the act
of witnessing, committed to the collective memory through art,
Hope may arise from artistic representation after atrocities,
but emerging legal representations of torture signal a crisis
of morality, argued Stanford law professor Jenny Martinez.
Though torture has been with us throughout history, Martinez
conceded, the current effort to give torture legal footing
is much more sinister than its mere existence.
S. Martinez spoke about the damage done
to centuries-old legal traditions against torture.
Martinez deftly traced the ways in which recent legal developments
in the U.S. have upended the centuries-old legal prohibition
on torture. English common law, from which the American legal
system is descended, prohibited torture in the 14 th century,
but gave the king authority to personally authorize torture
in particular cases. However, by the end of the 17 th century,
the king himself was barred from authorizing torture. This
limitation on the exercise of absolute power was in effect
when the United States declared its independence. However,
since 9/11, the prohibition on torture has been under attack,
and torture has become legally sanctioned for the first time
in centuries. Provisions allowing coerced testimony and removing
criminal punishment for commission of war crimes are two examples
of this shift.
argued that the legal sanction of torture serves as a “loaded gun” for
all countries to use in arguing to allow torture. In addition,
Martinez warned that legal justifications for torture, like
the justifications for Japanese internment in Word War II,
lead to the degradation of the legal system and society as
a whole. No country can be proud of exercising absolute power
Philip Zimbardo closed the panel with valuable insights gleaned
from his famous prison experiment which pitted two identical
groups of study volunteers against each other. One group
was given the role of prison guards and the other that of
prisoners. Within days the prison environment implemented
by the experiment’s authors led the “guards” to
engage in abuse of the “prisoners.” The results
were so extreme that the experiment — which was intended
to last two weeks — had to be halted after just six days.
of the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib didn’t
surprise Zimbardo, as participants in his prison experiment
had also attempted to force the “prisoners” into
complete submission. Remarkably, they had even employed near
identical methods of humiliation, including the use of nudity
and sexual degradation and the placement of bags on prisoners’ heads.
Zimbardo, who acted as a defense witness
for one of the soldiers on trial for actions at Abu
Ghraib, discussed the relationship between situation
and the capacity for violent behavior.
lesson, Zimbardo argued, is that the prison guards in Abu
Ghraib weren’t simply “bad apples.” Instead,
they were normal people placed in an environment that encouraged
the abuse of those under their control. Zimbardo called this
environment a “bad barrel” and suggested that the
designers and builders of that barrel should be held accountable.
He followed a chain of responsibility to the highest ranks
of the political and military structure. As Martinez had previously
noted, although the Bush administration did not support purposeless
torture, allowing torture in some circumstances opened the
door for it to be used in others.
CLAS forum was a lively dialogue, in which each panelist’s
presentation enriched the others. This interaction among a
variety of disciplines helped to illuminate common streams
of analysis on the connection between torture and power. This,
in turn, helped to create a broader historical and philosophical
framework within which to approach the debate on torture and
Neier is President of the Open Society Institute and former
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch; José Zalaquett
is Codirector of the Human Rights Center at the University
of Chile and former President of the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights; Jenny S. Martinez is Associate Professor
of Law at Stanford University and argued the 2004 case Rumsfeld
v. Padilla before the Supreme Court; and Philip Zimbardo
is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford and author
of a forthcoming book on Abu Ghraib. The panel spoke at the
Center for Latin American Studies’ forum on "Torture,
Human Rights, and Terrorism," held at UC Berkeley on
March 7, 2007.
M. Ray is a student at Boalt Hall School of Law and an
intern in Boalt’s International
Human Rights Law Clinic.
members talk with the audience after the
Zalaquett and Aryeh Neier walk
to the event along with Professor Harley
the Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies.