The ethical and moral issues surrounding US policy on torture and drones was explored this week when respected international expert James P Pfiffner addressed the ACT branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs.

His speech on US Leadership and 21st Century Warfare examined reasons why US officials adopted harsh interrogation policies and the use of drones, but also presented arguments as to why these policies have not been in the long-term best interests of the United States.

The insight, on Tuesday night, also looked at how ethical boundaries can be and have been stretched too far.

James P. Pfiffner is a visiting scholar at Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy in Brisbane.

He is Director of the Doctoral Program at the School of Public Policy, George Mason University in the United States, and a renowned academic expert on the US presidency, American national government and national security.

“Torture has always been against US policy from Washington to Lincoln to the Geneva Conventions,” he says.

The fear that resulted from the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to extreme but understandable measures, he notes. “However, after reports of abuse by interrogators, there was no reconsideration. Even after Abu Ghraib was exposed, the abuse continued.”

Professor Pfiffner, who is the author of Torture as Public Policy, tracked major policy changes in the US that led to the use of torture post-9/11 and how interrogators were “set free” from previous constraints.

His address discussed the logic of torture within guidelines and arguments justifying torture that goes beyond approved techniques. A similarly sharp examination applied to new and changing standards of drone strikes.

“Australia is a strong ally of the United States, so understanding how US politics works should be useful to the Australian community,” he says.

James Pfiffner received the Distinguished Faculty Award at George Mason University in 1990 and the College of Arts and Sciences Award for Scholarship in 1999.

While serving with the 25th Infantry Division (1/8 Artillery) in 1970 he received the Army Commendation Medal for Valor in Vietnam and Cambodia.

He is listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World.