Analysis and Commentary on Human Rights

Who Gets to Be Human?

Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies continues his discussion of the role of dignity as a condition of a legitimate criminal justice system. Margulies argues that it is dignity that saves us from the conceit that we may decide who gets to be human, but he laments that many people are not yet ready to give up that conceit.

Torture and Myth, Part One

In this first of a two-part series of columns, Cornell University visiting law professor Joseph Margulies debunks the widespread belief that Americans’ support for torture occurred immediately following the attacks of 9/11. In Part II, Margulies will discuss how support for torture took off only after it became a partisan issue, and an argument took shape that made torture sound congenial to American values.

The New Torture Report: Expect Little Other Than Talk

Former counsel to the president John W. Dean discusses the recent report by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence describing the CIA’s use of torture to interrogate suspected terrorists. Dean predicts that the report will not likely lead to any prosecutions or policy changes, but instead might only result in the more frequent torture of Americans captured around the world.

The Reclamation of Torture

Guest columnist and professor of law and government at Cornell University, Joseph Margulies discusses the use of the term “torture” in American media and the public sphere. Margulies describes the change in language after 9/11 and explains the significance of the word’s return to the public’s vocabulary.

The Death Penalty in the United States and the Force of Regional Human Rights Law

Justia guest columnist and U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor Saira Mohamed discusses how the recent botched execution in Oklahoma signals the impact regional human rights laws can have beyond borders. Mohamed explains how the development of various European laws and corporate policies have contributed to changes in lethal injection practices in the United States. She notes that European opposition to capital punishment led to the adoption of a European Union regulation restricting trade in drugs that could be used for the purpose of lethal injection. Mohamed concludes that despite the common perception that human rights laws are toothless, limited laws such as those in Europe demonstrate the capacity of human rights law to have wide application, shape state practices, and impact human lives.

Seven Ways of Looking at Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum and the Supreme Court Under Chief Justice John Roberts

Justia guest columnist and Touro Law Center professor Rodger Citron analyzes the Supreme Court's decision in the Kiobel case, which concerned the scope of the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”), a federal statute relied upon by lawyers asserting claims of human rights violations. In particular, Citron focuses on how Kiobel fully illustrates the judicial philosophy of Chief Justice Roberts. In addition, he offers seven different ways of looking at the decision.

Legal Limits on the Forced Feeding of Hunger-Striking Guantanamo Bay Detainees

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the law applicable to the forced feeding, via tubes, of those Guantanamo detainees who refuse to eat, as they are on a hunger strike, and are becoming dangerously weak. Human rights groups condemn the forced feeding as cruel, but the government says that it is better than the detainee’s dying. With U.S. law unclear on the force-feeding issue as it related to detainees, Dorf analyzes the situation, citing two relevant Supreme Court precedents and other legal sources that might shed light on the issue. He also suggests that the detainees’ best hope, in this situation, might be to invoke international law, though their chances of prevailing will still be slim.

Some Good News for Human Rights Lawyers in the Supreme Court’s Interpretation of the Alien Tort Statute

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Alien Tort Statue (ATS), which had been interpreted by many human rights attorneys as opening the way for serious foreign wrongs to be litigated in U.S. courts, including the Supreme Court. The conservative Justices rejected that interpretation, however, and their votes won the day, angering and disappointing human rights lawyers. Still, Dorf finds a few positives for the human rights law community in the Court's decision, as well, citing a handful of ATS approaches that may remain to be used.

Unstated Findings of the Detainee Treatment Report: Bush/Cheney & Co. Are War Criminals

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean comments on the bipartisan Detainee Treatment report that was recently released by The Constitution Project (TCP). Dean characterizes the report’s findings as nothing less than devastating. In particular, Dean notes that the report leads Dean—who serves on the TCP committee on Liberty & Security—to conclude that Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as others, engaged in war crimes. Dean focuses especially on TCP’s most notable findings in his column.

Is Obama’s Policy of Targeted Killings Really Worse than Bush’s Torture Policy?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf contrasts Obama’s policy of targeted killings of persons believed to be leaders of al Q’aeda, with George W. Bush’s prior policy of authorization of the use of torture. The issue is timely in the wake of the release of an Obama Administration white paper on the targeted-killing issue. Dorf notes that the Administration is drawing criticism from both the right and the left on that issue. Dorf argues that the Administration is right to seek to craft a policy that complies with both the U.S. Constitution and the international law of war. He also examines the views of controversial conservative law professor John Yoo on which is worse: the Obama Administration’s targeted killing policy, or the Bush Administration’s torture policy. Dorf also looks at such questions from the point of view of not just law, but also morality.

A Review of the Documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Which Reveals the Paradigm of Institution-based Child Sex Abuse

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton reviews a recent HBO Films documentary about child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, noting that the paradigm that the documentary reveals also applies to many other institutions where child sex abuse has occurred, including Penn State, the Boy Scouts, other religious groups, other schools, and many more. Mea Maxima Culpa is especially heart-wrenching, Hamilton explains, because the victims of sex abuse were deaf boys, and some of their families had never learned to sign—making them all the more vulnerable to the predation. The documentary, Hamilton contends, surely deserves an Oscar nod, especially as it captures the paradigm of institution-based abuse, covering the victims, the perpetrators, and the institution.

Paul Ryan and Human Rights

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner comments on presumed Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s positions on human rights issues. Reminding readers that even a VP may have great influence on human rights issue, as Dick Cheney certainly did with regard to issues relating to torture, Mariner notes that if Mitt Romney is elected president, Ryan, too, may have considerable sway in this area. Mariner notes first that Ryan sees rights as natural and God-given, and then goes on to note that Ryan is extremely pro-life, even if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger, and extremely anti-gay-rights. Mariner notes that when it comes to foreign policy, Ryan seems more open to certain compromises, and she is troubled, especially, by Ryan’s reportedly enlisting the advice of Elliot Abrams, whose views on human rights issues are, Mariner notes, very disturbing.

A Legal Challenge to Targeted Killings

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner asks the following question, which she notes is far from hypothetical, as three Americans have already been killed: Does the Executive Branch—including, specifically, the Pentagon and the CIA—possess unreviewable power under the US Constitution to carry out targeted killings of Americans overseas? With an ACLU/Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit being filed today to challenge the legality of targeted killings carried out by the United States, the contention that these scenarios fall under the “political question” doctrine and thus cannot be adjudicated in court, will be tested soon.

Journalists, Protesters, and Other Terrorist Threats

Justia columnist and Hunter College Human Rights Program Director Joanne Mariner draws on a recent Human Rights Watch report that she co-authored, regarding the host of post-9/11 counterterrorism laws that have been passed, to question whether these laws cast too wide a net.  As Mariner explains, the report reveals that, in fact, many of the laws have proved overbroad, and that very overbreadth has meant that they have swept in journalists, social protesters, opposition figures, and other disfavored groups who have had nothing to do with terrorism.  Mariner provides specific examples to prove her thesis, citing instances of the misuse of counterterrorism laws to detain protesters in Bahrain, and to detain journalists in Ethiopia.  She also focuses on troublingly unspecific UN Security Council resolutions regarding counterterrorism, that may well open the door to abuse.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois... more

Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar, a Professor of Law at The George Washington... more

Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb... more

John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973... more

Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has... more

Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Sidney and Walter Siben Distinguished Professor of Family Law at the... more

Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the leading church/state scholars in the United States and the Paul R... more

David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney, writer, and editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more