The Ethics of Interrogation

Professional Responsibility in an Age of Terror

Paul Lauritzen

"An indispensable analysis of the need for strict and clear moral limits on what a human person may do in the so-called war against terrorism."
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Can harsh interrogation techniques and torture ever be morally justified for a nation at war or under the threat of imminent attack? In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, the United States and other liberal democracies were forced to grapple once again with the issue of balancing national security concerns against the protection of individual civil and political rights. This question was particularly poignant when US forces took prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq who arguably had information about additional attacks. In this volume, ethicist Paul Lauritzen takes on ethical debates about counterterrorism techniques that are increasingly central to US foreign policy and discusses the ramifications for the future of interrogation.

Lauritzen examines how doctors, lawyers, psychologists, military officers, and other professionals addressed the issue of the appropriate limits in interrogating detainees. In the case of each of these professions, a vigorous debate ensued about whether the interrogation policy developed by the Bush administration violated codes of ethics governing professional practice. These codes are critical, according to Lauritzen, because they provide resources for democracies and professionals seeking to balance concerns about safety with civil liberties, while also shaping the character of those within these professional guilds.

This volume argues that some of the techniques used at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere were morally impermissible; nevertheless, the healthy debates that raged among professionals provide hope that we may safeguard human rights and the rule of law more effectively in the future.

Table of Contents


Part I
1. If You Can’t Oppose Torture, What Can You Oppose? Psychologists Confront Coercive Interrogations
2. What’s Wrong with Supporting National Security? Psychology and the
Pursuit of National Security
3. Interrogating Justice: The Torture Memos and the Office of Legal Counsel
4. Ticking Bombs and Dirty Hands: Coercive Interrogation and the Rule of

Part II
5. Treating Terrorists: The Conflicting Pull of Role Responsibility
6. Discipline and Punish: The Importance of Professional Accountability
7. Professional Responsibility and the Virtuous Professional
8. The Day They Enter Active Service: The Military Conscience
9. Lessons Learned: Dignity and the Rule of Law
10. This We Do Not Do: The Future of Interrogation and the Ethics of Professional Responsibility




"This book provides an important and informed coverage of the legal and ethical issues that need to be considered in assessing the involvement of medical and legal professionals in the management and administration of harsh interrogation techniques bordering on, or amount to, torture against terrorist detainees."—

"An indispensable analysis of the need for strict and clear moral limits on what a human person may do in the so-called war against terrorism."—America Magazine

"An important and pioneering book. Paul Lauritzen is to be commended for providing us with an insightful look into the ethical issues that are raised in the interrogation of suspected terrorists."—New York Journal of Books

"This book should be read by all citizens concerned about the effects of counterterrorism on the moral habits of the professions and democratic public life. With exquisite attention to nuance and detail, Lauritzen ranges across debates by psychologists, lawyers, medical providers, and military leaders about their professional and civic responsibilities in the age of terror. The Ethics of Interrogation is a brilliant model of interdisciplinary moral and political analysis."—Richard B. Miller, department of religious studies and director, Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, Indiana University

"This volume provides a superb and analytically precise analysis of the tensions between legitimate concerns for security in an age of terror and maintenance of core American and professional values. It assesses the role of military psychologists, lawyers, and line military personnel in maintaining professional standards in the face of strong pressures of perceived urgency and exigency. Required reading for anyone seeking moral clarity on these questions."—Martin L. Cook, Stockdale Professor of Professional Military Ethics, US Naval War College

"Paul Lauritzen skillfully addresses one of the most difficult questions confronting liberal democracies: the limits of interrogation. Masterfully weaving distinct themes reflecting a sophisticated interdisciplinary approach, Lauritzen paints a broad mosaic with great detail and precision. This is an important book for academics, professionals, policy makers, and the general public."—Amos N. Guiora, SJ, Quinney College of Law, University of Utah


Supplemental Materials


2014 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Faithful Citizenship, Third Place. Winner of the 2014 Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award in the Philosophy/Ethics Category. One of Choice Magazine's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014.

About the Author

Paul Lauritzen is a professor of religious ethics and former director of the Program of Applied Ethics at John Carroll University in Cleveland. He is the author or editor of four books, including Medicine and the Ethics of Care (Georgetown, 2001) and has published extensively on issues in bioethics, human rights, and religious ethics. He is the past coeditor of the Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics and is currently an associate editor with the Journal of Religious Ethics.

240 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

May 2013

240 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-972-0
May 2013

240 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-973-7
May 2013

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