University of New Hampshire

School of Law

School of Law

Dean Emeritus John Hutson Attends Italian Meeting of International Intelligence Leaders

UNH Law Dean Emeritus and Retired Admiral John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy and a prominent voice in the national human rights debate, recently was invited to participate in an international conference on torture in Bellagio, Italy, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation.

The conference was organized by the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Human Rights First, whose board Dean Hutson serves on. It hosted 18 participants from more than a dozen countries, including Israel, Pakistan, Colombia, Jordan, Senegal, Turkey and Kenya. It took place over two days at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, which supports the work of individuals "who share in the Foundation's pioneering mission to 'promote the well-being of humanity.' "

The attendees, all of whom were retired from active leadership roles in their nations and thus not officially representing their governments, were able to pursue an open-ended dialogue, Hutson said, in part because of the conference structure and in part because of the agreement that none of the discussion was for specific attribution, other than by the individual.

The debate was vigorous, Hutson said, because of the dissent in the group. "There were people there at the table who supported torture under certain circumstances," he said.

"That kind of push-back causes any laziness in your thinking to dissolve pretty quickly," Hutson said. "It did sharpen our arguments and discussions."

Those discussions, moderated by Richard Danzig, former Secretary of the Navy and chairman of the Center for a New American Security, ranged from examining the arguments for and against torture, and then evaluating consequences, alternatives, the strategic and long-term impacts and the science of interrogation, Hutson said.

Central to the debate was the question of efficacy: “For me and for many of us, it comes down to a kind of a tactical level that torture does not produce reliable results,” Hutson said. “It produces results, to be sure, but they’re not reliable. And torture undermines our values as a country, so that at a more strategic level, even if it worked, it’s a bad idea over the long haul because it changes who you are as a people.”

At the end of the two days, Hutson said, “we had so much to digest, so many arguments, that it would have been difficult to really come to any outcome. We want to be able to have it grow, and continue these discussions in this kind of informal but experienced level.”

The group hopes to reconvene, he said, and include participants from a number of other countries, including Mexico, Argentina and the Middle East.

Hutson, a vocal advocate for human rights, recently has been featured on several news outlets, including Al Jazeera English and The Huffington Post, for his criticisms of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the United States House and Senate this month and which President Obama is expected to sign into law. The bill would allow the military to detain U.S. citizens indefinitely.

“I was dean in New Hampshire, where the motto is live free or die,” Hutson told The Huffington Post. “The rest of that phrase, live free or die, is because there are things worse than death. This kind of dramatic change to who we are as a nation, who we are as people, is not something that you can just sort of rhetorically say, 'Well, it's going to save lives' . . . It's going to cost lives. It’s going to cost a way of life.”