A Disturbing Double Standard

Earlier this week Harvard Law Students received an email from Dean Minow that denounced a comment made by a student at a panel event featuring Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minster.

Something accidentally left out of Ms. Livni’s bio at the event (probably) was that a British court issued a warrant for her arrest for war crimes committed during the 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza. During that offensive, 1400 Palestinians died, mostly civilians; Israel says it was defending itself against Hamas rocket fire, 13 Israelis died. We’ve all tried to get out of events we didn’t want to attend before but “soz I can’t come, I might get arrested for war crimes” is an excuse that can probably only be used by about two other people, like maybe Al-Bashir and Karadžić, tops.

There are many questions that one might have for Tzipi Livni. Why did you bomb UN schools? How can you deny the humanitarian crisis in Gaza? What moisturiser do you use to give you that youthful genocidal glow? But instead, a student asked about why the speaker was smelly.

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Harvard Law School to Install Free Speech Panic Buttons in Wasserstein Hall

In response to the recent spate of attacks against free speech on campus, Harvard Law School has decided to install panic buttons in Wasserstein Hall.  Students who feel that their free speech is being threatened will be able to hit a panic button, at which point, an administrator will be dispatched to take the offender to task.

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Just War Theory or Justify War Theory? Why Israel (or Any State) Should Not be the Authority on International Law

There is a bomb somewhere in the city center. You do not know where, but you have the person who planted the bomb in your custody. He refuses to reveal where the bomb is located. The bomb is going to explode in one hour, threatening to kill innocent civilians. Do you torture him to get the information?

“Ticking time bomb” hypotheticals like this one illustrate how sometimes something which we may denounce as otherwise unacceptable and unethical (torture) might seem necessary to prevent a greater evil (the death of innocent civilians). In international law, the prohibition on torture is a peremptory norm from which no derogation is permitted. Why? Because as an international community, we recognize that some things – such as torture, genocide, slavery – are so perverse that we cannot engage in their practice without eroding the foundation of a society governed by the rule of law. Nothing can justify their use. Not even terrorism. Continue reading “Just War Theory or Justify War Theory? Why Israel (or Any State) Should Not be the Authority on International Law”