Law School Hosts Conference on 'Torture, Law, and War'

U of C Confab to Take Broad Look at Torture
Jerry Crimmins
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
February 22, 2008

The University of Chicago Law School is sponsoring an academic conference on torture next week, something that would have been hard to imagine in academia a few years ago.

''For the sake of protecting security and pursuing justice, some have urged we reexamine the usefulness and broad prohibitions of torture,'' the university states in its official announcement of the two-day event.

More than 20 speakers distributed into seven panel discussions will hash out issues surrounding torture over two days on Feb. 29 and March 1 at the law school, 1111 E. 60th St.

At least one speaker holds ''views that might be characterized as suggesting that torture might be legally permissible,'' according to one of the organizers, visiting Professor Scott Anderson.

Martha Nussbaum, the U of C's professor of law and ethics, is the other organizer.

A number of speakers ''are philosophers who will distinguish between moral permissibility and legal permissibility,'' Anderson added.

Some of those philosophers might view torture as legally permissible but morally not, and others vice versa, he said.

Asked whether he imagined a few years ago that a university would hold an academic conference on torture, Anderson pointed to a law journal article by Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

''There are some articles I never thought I would have to write; this is one,'' Kreimer wrote.

Anderson earned a doctoral degree in philosophy from the U of C only in 2002. For more experienced professors, he said, the issues ''seem to have come back from the grave.''

Sample panel topics are:

  • ''How does torture affect the tortured, the torturers, and those who inhabit a world with torture in it?'' 1:40 p.m. to 3 p.m. Friday.
  • ''Is torture ever morally permissible, and if so, on what grounds?''
    3:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. Friday.
  • ''Torture in History: What can we learn from history about the function and impact of the use of coercive interrogation techniques?'' 9 a.m. to 10:20 a.m. Saturday.
  • ''Should the law absolutely ban coercive interrogation? And can and should it really mean it?'' 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

The scheduled speakers are professors in law, philosophy, psychology and psychiatry, the classics and political science.

The conference is held in conjunction with U of C law's year-long law and philosophy workshop on coercion, and several students from that workshop will also speak.

The keynote speaker will be Albie Sachs, justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.

Anderson is on leave from the University of British Columbia, where he is an assistant professor of philosophy. He is Law and Philosophy Fellow at the U of C.

The conference is free and open to the public. Registration is not required. For more information, contact Anderson at, or call (773) 702-0678.


Martha Nussbaum