Torture debate marked by protest from history prof.

by Astrid Bradley | 10/18/05 5:00am

Attendees at a Monday discussion about whether torturing wartime prisoners is justified ran into protestors at the door of Filene Auditorium who argued that the subject should not be up for debate.

History professor Ronald Edsforth organized the protests and distributed handouts at the door detailing his position.

"Should we Americans be debating whether our government should be civilized or barbarian? Some issues have been settled. Some issues should not be debated," Edsforth's handout read. "Torture and extra-judicial killing are not legitimate policy options. They should be condemned by all as barbaric, illegal and immoral."

The debate, entitled "Coercive Interrogation and Targeted Killing: Justifiable Means or Self-Defeating Excess?" featured University of California, Berkeley, law professor John Yoo and Columbia University law professor Scott Horton, who is also president of the International League for Human Rights.

Yoo began his argument by plugging his book, "The Powers of War and Peace," which he urged students to consult for a broader explanation of the issue.

Yoo's argument centered on the question of "whether this is a war, if September 11th attacks were a war, or a crime?"

In the criminal justice system, Yoo said criminals are arrested and then entitled to due process. In war, however, future attacks are prevented by killing the enemy.

According to Yoo, the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks constituted a declaration of war because they attempted to decapitate a government.

"If a nation-state, if the Soviet Union would have carried out the attack in the same way, we would have no question if it were a war," Yoo said.

Horton, on the other hand, said the idea that targeted killing would be part of a legitimate policy was appalling and that the United States should adhere to the rules set forth by the Geneva Convention on dealing with prisoners of war.

"The U.S. believes torture is not permissable but interrogation that falls short of torture is?" Horton said in disbelief.

Edsforth said he was delighted at the number of protestors, about 10, who turned up for the event.

One protestor, graduate student Scott Daniel, held a sign reading, "Land of the Free, Home of the Tortured?" with the word "tortured" drawn to look like it was dripping with blood.

"It is absurd that we are having a debate on this issue. If we can do torture, something is wrong. Something is wrong with society. We are as bad as terrorists," Daniel said.

Students attending the debate were taken aback to find protestors flanking the Filene doors.

"It was kind of a surprise to see the protestors and the cameras," said Ryan Counter '06, a student in Stam's government seminar.

The event attracted many interested students, some of whom needed to watch the event from an overflow room that was set up to handle the large crowd.

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