This Article argues that, rather than being mere targets, governments can and do engage in “reverse rhetorical entrapment,” thus shaping the strategies of human rights organizations. Specifically, justifications for egregious conduct—at least when made by powerful governments—may draw human rights advocates into consequentialist debates about the utility of specific rights-violating practices. Using the case of coercive interrogation in the United States, this Article shows how Human Rights Watch (HRW) was entrapped by the consequentialist justifications of President George Bush’s Administration. In explaining and defending its interrogation practices, the administration turned to the “war on terror” discourse that aimed to deflect and undermine human rights critiques. For reasons of political practicality, HRW could not simply rely on moral and legal naming and shaming. Rather, it responded with its own consequentialist arguments about torture, focusing specifically on three outcomes: (1) the unreliability of intelligence gathered through coercive interrogation, (2) the effect of U.S. interrogation tactics in galvanizing terrorist groups and influencing the interrogation practices of other governments, and (3) the impact of coercive interrogation on the moral standing of the United States and its ability to attract support for its counterterrorism policies.
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