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Rules Should Govern Torture, Dershowitz Says

Alan Dershowitz is an author, lawyer and Harvard law professor. <strong>Scroll down to read an excerpt from his book, <em>Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways</em></strong>.
Alan Dershowitz is an author, lawyer and Harvard law professor. Scroll down to read an excerpt from his book, Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways.

Torture is never acceptable, but it's a reality that should be covered by rules, Alan Dershowitz says. The lawyer and Harvard Law School professor says the president should be held responsible for acts of torture and be required to sign torture warrants.

Dershowitz, whose latest book is Preemption: a Knife That Cuts Both Ways, kicks off a series of Morning Edition conversations about interrogation and torture.

"I think torture will be used -- and has, in fact, been used -- whenever it is felt that by torturing an obviously guilty [terrorism suspect], the lives of multiple innocent people could be saved," he says. "The problem is that today, torture is being used promiscuously, and we deny we're using it."

Dershowitz says the government should acknowledge that it tortures suspects, and create rules for how torture is carried out. That would create "visibility and accountability. And that's what we lack today," he says.

What types of torture should be permitted?

"That's exactly what has to be debated," he says. "It's a very unpleasant debate."

"If the president of the United States thinks it's absolutely essential to defend the lives of thousands of people, he ought to be on the line. He ought to have to sign a torture warrant in which he says, 'I'm taking responsibility for breaking the law, for violating treaties, for doing an extraordinary act of necessity.' That's a responsibility only the president should be able to take, and only in the most extraordinary situation."

Dershowitz says the Abu Ghraib prison scandal showed that the current system doesn't work.

"Right now, we have the worst of all possible situations: We deny we're using torture, we're using it, everybody can deny they have any role in it. We can't trace it. So we punish a couple of people at Abu Ghraib ... There were low-visibility, low-level people and we used methods that no democracy should ever use and everybody says, 'Well, it wasn't my fault, it was some low-level dog handler.'"

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.