Legal Standards and the Interrogation of Prisoners in the War on Terror

By
Cynthia J. Arnson, Philippa Strum, and Adam Stubits

The question of the use of aggressive interrogation methods with prisoners suspected of terrorist activities is clearly an important one that will continue to be discussed by policymakers and the general public. In June 2007, in the hope of contributing to that discussion, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Division of United States Studies, Latin America Program, and Division of International Security Studies convened a conference on the subject.

The event consisted of two panels. The first was devoted to an exploration of the views within the U.S. government—the Congress as well as the executive branch—about the legalities and the utility of coercive techniques. William Taft IV, former Legal Advisor to the U.S. Department of State; Seth Stern, legal affairs reporter for
Congressional Quarterly; and David Rivkin, former Legal Advisor to the Counsel to the President, discussed the evolution of views within their departments and current interpretations of U.S. and international law.

The second panel, featuring Amrit Singh, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union; Tom Parker, a former counterterrorism official in the United Kingdom; and Juan Méndez, president of the International Center for Transitional Justice, examined views outside the government, including those from United States non-governmental organizations, Latin America, and England/Ireland.

What follows are the slightly edited presentations made at the conference.The comments and exchanges among the panelists themselves, as well as the discussions with the audience, are also included. These exchanges reflect the ongoing controversies generated by the issue of the treatment of detainees, as well as the passionately-held views on both sides of the debate.

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