Karen Greenberg

Karen J. Greenberg is the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University and the editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (with Joshua Dratel), The Torture Debate in America, and Al Qaeda Now: Understanding Today's Terrorists.

Recent Articles

Defusing the "Ticking Time Bomb" Excuse

Life does not imitate 24, and the Democratic candidates, led by Hillary Clinton, are finally learning to address the unrealistic scenarios that Republicans often use to justify torture.

Left, Kiefer Sutherland in a still from his hit TV show 24. Right, Hillary Clinton at the last Democratic debate. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Torture, it seems, just won't disappear from the American political landscape. Last week's revelation of the U.S. attorney general's authorization for the use of torture is one more chapter in a story that the American people will have to live with for time immemorial. Yet, it comes, uncannily, at a time when the American public finally has some leadership in the effort to oppose torture, even at the highest levels of government. It has been three and a half years since the Abu Ghraib photos appeared and, rather than putting a firm end to the re-introduction of sixteenth century methods of obtaining information, that revelation merely served to open up a Pandora's box of possibilities for the use of torture. Americans were entranced by the techniques of Jack Bauer on 24 , reassured by the idea of a president who would respond to the ticking bomb scenario by doing whatever it took, and only mildly impressed by arguments about morality, legality and the like. But this will not be the...

Split Screens

Lynndie England is dressed in an orange jump suit -- Prisoner Number 9J7327 -- with her stringy hair pulled back. She stares at the audience in the Culture Project's theater on New York's Bleecker Street. Several feet away, a British journalist attaches Post-its to a board. They are separated from each other by the length of the stage -- as well as by nationality, education, and class. Yet, as the audience learns during Peter Morris's award-winning play, Guardians , which opens at the Culture Project on April 11, their lives are intertwined because of Abu Ghraib. Guardians , which presents an insightful study of the intersection between the political and human dimensions of the torture scandal, allows us to see the issue from the perspective not of legal experts or of administration critics and apologists but of two individuals who have been swept up in its wake. The play presents two competing monologues: one in the voice of American Girl, or Lynndie England, played by Katherine...

The Accused

For God And Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire by James Yee (with Aimee Molloy) ( PublicAffairs, 240 pages, $24.00 ) One Woman's Army: The Commanding General of Abu Ghraib Tells Her Story by Janis Karpinski (with Steven Strasser) ( Hyperion, 256 pages, $24.95 ) War upends ordinary lives. At times, it can catapult individuals, almost overnight, from modest obscurity into painful notoriety. James Yee and Janis Karpinski -- the former charged with treason, the latter with negligent leadership -- have seen their lives convulsed, if not undone, by the war on terrorism. Witnesses rather than perpetrators in the larger story of detainee abuse in American military prisons, their complementary stories provide first-person accounts of an interrogation system in which, even according to various Army reports, “[i]mprovisation was the order of the day,” leading to “missed opportunities,” “ambiguities” in policy, poor leadership, and insufficient oversight resulting in numerous instances of...

Figures of Speech

One of John Kerry's stronger moments in the first presidential debate came when he explained that, contrary to what George W. Bush would still have had inattentive viewers believe, Saddam Hussein did not attack the United States. To this cold reminder, Bush snapped back defensively, “Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that.” He also stumbled embarrassingly into the following boast: “Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden. He's isolated. Seventy-five percent of his people have been brought to justice.” At the Republican convention in early September, Bush had recited this same talking point more carefully, speaking not of bin Laden's “people” in general but of “al-Qaeda's key members and associates.” Before the convention, the White House had claimed that “two-thirds” of the “senior al-Qaeda and associated leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators” had been captured or killed. So, between the convention and the first debate, somehow and...

Figures of Speech

One of John Kerry's stronger moments in the first presidential debate came when he explained that, contrary to what George W. Bush would still have had inattentive viewers believe, Saddam Hussein did not attack the United States. To this cold reminder, Bush snapped back defensively, “Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that.” He also stumbled embarrassingly into the following boast: “Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden. He's isolated. Seventy-five percent of his people have been brought to justice.” At the Republican convention in early September, Bush had recited this same talking point more carefully, speaking not of bin Laden's “people” in general but of “al-Qaeda's key members and associates.” Before the convention, the White House had claimed that “two-thirds” of the “senior al-Qaeda and associated leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators” had been captured or killed. So, between the convention and the first debate, somehow and...