The science and law of torture

WASHINGTON, DC - Incidents of torture are making headlines around the globe. In the United States, as more is revealed about the Iraq prisoner scandal, public debate has centered on the legal requirements for prisoners of war and the standards to protect them against torture as codified in the international human rights treaties that this country has ratified.

What constitutes an act of torture? Is the use of torture ever justified? What evidence, if any, is there to suggest that the practice of torture is in the best interest of national security and how does the current research in sociology, psychology inform the debate about torture?

"Authorizing, permitting or tolerating torture or acts that are inconsistent with the principles of international law, U.S. law, or our values as a country would have serious implications for our nation and for the international human rights system," says Audrey R. Chapman, director of science and human rights programs at AAAS.

On Monday, 28 June, AAAS, the science society will convene a panel of legal and scientific experts on torture and prisoner treatment for a half-day conference.

On the scientific panel, award-winning Martha Huggins, Ph.D., Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professors of Human Relations, Tulane University, New Orleans, is highly regarded in the field of torture research. She has conducted numerous studies of torture and will talk about some of her research on incidents in Brazil and implications for other contexts. She will identify and elaborate on the sociological and psychological factors that nurture, facilitate, justify and excuse torture. Huggins will also discuss the systematic nature of torture systems and methods to stop them. "A strategy that just focuses on the direct perpetrators will not reduce or eliminate torture," she says.

Another researcher, Allen S. Keller, M.D., program director, Bellevue/NYU Program f

Contact: Monica Amarelo
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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