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Is Torture Ever Justified?


Senator John McCain suffered much of what the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) and Other Cruel or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – adopted June 26, 1987 – bans as a prisoner of war and victim of torture. Ten years later, this date was established as the annual International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Senator McCain was an ardent supporter to victims of torture and one of the world’s loudest voices against its use, rarely missing the opportunity to denounce it. This is the legacy the McCain Institute continues.

Lt. Gen. (ret) Benjamin Freakley commanded U.S. troops in combat many times throughout a long military career, including the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan from 2006-7. He currently heads up major leadership programs and initiatives at the McCain Institute and its parent organization, Arizona State University.

Ambassador Clint Williamson has served in several high-level positions key to enforcing international law, including as U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crime issues from 2006-9. He currently is the McCain Institute’s senior director for International Rule of Law and Security and a professor of practice at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor Law School.

They join host Luke Knittig for a provocative discussion on whether the use of torture is ever justified and on what can be and is being done for victims, explaining Senator McCain’s outsized influence and continued impact along the way.



“Torture is morally and ethically wrong . . . there is no justification ever for torture, for the mistreatment of a fellow human being. It is, in fact, completely inconsistent with our national values.” General Freakley


“For our enemies, abuse and torture is a rallying cry. It helps them. It helps them recruit. It helps them get funding. It helps them have a function and a passion, and a motivation to fight us.” General Freakley


“In honoring [Senator McCain’s] legacy, we should just be able to agree at the outset of any conversation on the use of torture that it runs counter to U.S. interests. First and foremost, it’s inconsistent with American values. Secondly, it contravenes our adherence to domestic and international law. And thirdly, it’s ineffective in producing reliable and/or actionable information for intelligence or law enforcement purposes.” Ambassador Williamson


“It’s very, very important for our leaders to talk about [torture] in the clearest terms possible. Anytime you start trying to be vague about this or play semantic word games, and in any way try to excuse this behavior you’re opening the door, you’re giving a green light to others to do the things we would never want to see done to our own troops. It is important for [our leaders] to be unequivocal in their condemnation of torture.” Ambassador Williamson

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Publish Date
June 25, 2020