Torture and human rights after Abu Graib

Thursday, 9 September 2004

Is using torture justified, if it means preventing acts of terrorism?

A free public lecture today (Thursday) by one of the University of Adelaide's leading researchers will examine the moral, legal and ethical issues surrounding human rights and the use of torture.

Professor Paul Fairall, Dean of the University of Adelaide's Law School, will talk about the recent outcry over abuse of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Graib prison and discuss whether Australia could - and should - consider torture as a preventative mechanism as part of a special series of free lectures hosted by the University.

The Inaugural Lectures series features free public lectures by new professors at the University, who are widely recognised as national and international leaders in their fields. Today's lecture is the fourth in the series of eight lectures, which will be held each Thursday at 1.10pm until October 7.

This is a unique opportunity for the people of Adelaide to hear from some of the nation's best minds, all based at the University of Adelaide.

WHAT: "Human rights after Abu Graib. Are you a torturer?" by Professor Paul Fairall (Law)
WHERE: Council Room, Level 7, Wills Building, University of Adelaide - North Terrace Campus
WHEN: 1.10pm Thursday, September 9

A bomb is ticking. Its location is unknown, except to the person in the cell next door. Many lives are in the balance. Your captive won't talk. She might under torture. What to do?

What happened at Abu Graib begs the question whether torture or other forms of cruel treatment can ever be justified. The revulsion of the world suggests not. But according to leaked documents, in August 2002 the US Justice Department advised President George Bush Junior that even if soft torture methods were illegal under US domestic law, such practices could be justified by reference to necessity or even self-defence!

The Israel Supreme Court, in a considered judgment, held in 2001 that practices such as sleep and sensory deprivation, posture torture, and other means of inflicting pain, were unlawful, but might be justified in particular cases by reference to the defence of necessity.

Some writers, like the Harvard Law Professor Dershowitz, have raised the possibility of judicial supervision of torture, by the use of so-called torture warrants.

Should such proposals be countenanced in Australia, or ruled out of hand? In your moral code, are wrong actions made right by positive outcomes? Are you a deontologist or a consequentialist? Is this the 21st century or the Middle Ages?


Contact Details

Professor Paul Fairall
Law School
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5172

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762