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Professor Luban Authors New Book on Torture

October 20, 2014 —

Professor David Luban Professor David Luban

Does the fight against terrorism require the sacrifice of major rights? Is torture ever justified? Did lawyers twist the law to legitimize torture?

Georgetown University Law Center Professor David Luban tackles these questions and others in his new book, Torture, Power, and Law (Cambridge University Press, 2014). 

Luban analyzes the trade-offs between security and human rights and warns that certain sacrifices made in the fight against terrorism “are likely to become dangerously normalized.” This includes torture, a practice it took millennia to outlaw, but the prohibition of which is fragile, and could unravel whenever public opinion is driven by fear and rage, he argues. He develops a conception of torture “as the use of the pain and suffering to communicate the torturer’s absolute dominance over the victim’s absolute helplessness.” 

Luban contends that government lawyers abused the law to justify torture and explores the ethical obligations of professionals in government service. He also questions the morality of the Obama administration for failing to hold torturers accountable for their actions. 

“David Luban’s writing has been indispensable in the torture debates,” writes Jeremy Waldron, professor of law at New York University and Oxford. “No one has engaged more deeply with our understanding of what torture is. . . . These writings represent perhaps the most serious and sensitive work that has emerged from this grim chapter in America’s history.”

“If there is but one book to pick from the shelf dealing with the U.S. political crisis over the use of torture, then clearly it is David Luban’s,” says journalist and Columbia Law School Lecturer Scott Horton. “With a merciless dissection of the semantic games played by Washington lawyers and a brilliant discussion of the key questions of law and ethics at the heart of the torture debate, Luban emerges as the subject’s undisputed grand master.”

Luban is university professor and professor of law and philosophy at Georgetown University. His areas of expertise include international criminal law, jurisprudence and philosophy, professional ethics, national security, and just war theory.  He is currently the class of 1984 distinguished visitor in ethics at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 2012-2013, he co-directed the Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London. He has also directed Georgetown’s Center on National Security and the Law.

Luban’s other books include Lawyers and Justice: An Ethical Study (1988), Legal Modernism (1994) and Legal Ethics and Human Dignity (2007). He has testified before both houses of the U.S. Congress. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been a Guggenheim fellow, a Woodrow Wilson fellow, and a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies (Israel). He joined the Georgetown Law faculty from the University of Maryland and has held visiting chairs at Fordham, Stanford and Yale Law Schools. 

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