An Ethicist Looks at Terrorism, Protecting our Country, Torture, Changing the Government, Rights and Being Bystanders to Social Injustice
What follows is a potpourri of food for thought. There is much to chew over and swallow what you can. Please write about what you think of this meal. Do you think we are all a bunch of bystanders, simply watching but not taking on the hard task of making a change in the way our government works and the way we treat those who are less fortunate, lower on the socio-economic ladder, than we are? ..Maurice.
I wrote to ethicist-physician Erich Loewy my view that I would be in favor, in these times when America is at risk of terrorist attack, “obtaining the needed information for protection of our country [but] which is not through torture or violation of the Constitution.” My view was that if interrogation of suspected terrorists was carried out it should be with kindness and compassion, which has been found to be more effective than torture.
Dr. Loewy wrote me back (and I publish his comments here with his permission):
"The protection of our country".--.what, besides sounding good, is meant by it? The fact that torture empirically fails to yield information torturing is a wrong in itself. Why? Well, it is totally unacceptable to the Categorical Imperative which seems to be logically and pragmatically (in the proper sense) against this--why? Well, for one thing it violates it violates one of the categories of the CI.--. "Never use others or yourself as merely a means but also always as an "end in itself!". Torture to get information has not worked. Torture as a means to receiving such information would still be a matter which most ethicists would reject. It may satisfy some masochists, or some other radical groups. Torturing others, is something which demeans the torturer and does little for or against torturing. The tactic is one which has been used by many over the millennia. There are two reasons (and really more) why we have since time avoided the question. (1) It has been shown not to work--which may be a rather poor argument. (2) Some hundreds of years ago there were other quite convincing philosophical arguments. Aside from the practical reason that in the past the accused had due process of the law and to show "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that a person was "innocent" until proven (within a shadow of a doubt) to be guilty. Proper, translucent, etc. investigation committees have.--.insofar as that is possible.--.painstakingly held to that assumption. There have, Heaven knows.--.been various committees to examine the case, its legal and human dimensions but in general one trusted these committees.
In protecting "our country", Moe, what do you mean? Should we use a brutal, outlying legal system to illegally address this issue? One of the assumptions is that the US usually takes a high road, that the jury as well as the judge where fully informed and were not merely puppets manipulating legal cases. The best way to protect "our country" is by showing that we do have a systems of laws on both the federal and the state level. It does not mean that the laws pushed by Bush, should make a charade of the law and the Constitution. "911" has many similarities with the "Reichstagsfeuer". Shortly after the chancellor, etc. were sworn in (Hitler as chancellor, most others extreme right wing Nationalists) with the promise given by Hitler not to do anything contrary to the Weimar constitution? Severe physical damage, beatings and sometimes death is what was impressive to the mob and, among other reasons, the "Reichstagsfeuer" resulted in sending the Parliament home and ruling by decree? Fundamental rights were ignored and a nation which had been a democratic one, became overnight a brutal difficulty. We allowed this to happen, we did not protest (except for the Social Democrats who held a large rally) as long as we were not troubled ourselves.
If one wishes and tries to protect our democracy and re-constitute a "rule of law" there looms a police state and a rule by decree. We may have allowed things to go too far--we may not and regain the ground we have lost. Such things cannot be done incrementally--for that it has gone too far. I hope that it can be done in a democratic way but if not than an appeal to our fellow citizens to "remove that government" (which no longer safeguards our constitutional rights)--one hopes that it may be peaceful but if not so be it.
I responded with: “Erich, watch what happens by January 2009. Fellow citizens will "remove that government" in a peaceful and democratic manner. “
Dr. Loewy’s response was:
You write: " Erich, watch what happens by January 2009. Fellow citizens will ‘remove that government’ in a peaceful and democratic manner. “
"Your words in the ear of God"--as the saying goes. Will we remove the "government"--really change it or only the personae now "in office"?
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness --That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just power from the consent of the Governed, that whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new Government laying its Foundation on such Principles and organizing its power in such a form as to them all shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness. ................................When a long train of abuses and Usurpations, evinces a sign to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, (nay) it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security" (bold mine).
Read this paragraph--not the way it is presented in school but weighing each word. Jefferson is as contemporary and as multi-cultural as possible. Unless brain-washed the rights he lists are the same no matter where or when you think about them. Not in reality, not, perhaps, verbalized but almost as a part of our make-up.
The problem, as I see it, is that we have reached a point at which much of what Jefferson or Payne ("The Rights of Men") wrote is paid lip-service to but in reality they are dismantled one by one. As with the fascists or Nazis--it comes in small steps. Today we "roll over" to our having a little of our rights diminished, tomorrow another step removes a bit more and it really isn't "as bad as all that" and since we went along with step one, why not with step #2. And several steps later we are in Treblinka, Dachau or some other "Sanatorium."
In the US we have sea-sawed back and forth. The Mexican war, the Spanish war, the taking of the Philippines, etc. are not exactly things to be brought of. Slavery and what followed and still rears its ugly head in racism. The slavery today is of a different type--but it is slavery nonetheless. Instead of being "body slavery" it is "wage slavery" by which I mean that the little pay many receive does not allow the recipients to either get more training or to get another job. To say that severe racism, anti-Semitism and other group-hatreds are dead is looking around us in very rose-tinted glasses. The statistics (and they come from our government's web pages) speak for themselves. When a person (as is the case in 25% of US workers who earn $ 8.50/hr) earns barely enough to supply the gross necessities of life and often even not these, speaking of "freedom" is, I hate to say it, ludicrous. In the US today the distance between lowest and highest paid in a concern is enormous and still growing. Persons who have no realistic access to health-care or if their co-payments put medications, etc. out of reach, are placed in an impossible condition. Many of those who are the middle-class and their retiree's are incapable of availing themselves of medical care.
Some of the abuses that the US has engaged in lately (torture, warfare with the basis for it a lie, etc.) violate primitive rights. Many are arrested, not given a cause, not allowed to call his family or an attorney, being given a toothbrush only on the third day and on about day ten to find themselves suddenly and without explanation released is hardly something Jefferson would abuse. The person of whom I speak is a colleague of ours, a thoughtful and decent person and not one who has the appearance of a terrorist or helper.
I fear that whoever gets elected becomes a captive of the Capitalist system based on competition instead of cooperation, many extremely poorly educated, hungry and living in terrible quarters which breed disease (as well as despair) really are not fit to vote--it is a bit like informed consent and decisional capacity. These poor people cannot really have decisional capacity until good schooling, a decent life, and access to the ordinary opportunities which their community offers (Norm Daniels with the basic idea stolen from you) and without this a democracy is impossible. Dewey long ago wrote that political democracy requires (1) personal democracy enabling free, willing and respectful debate; (2) Economic (he calls it "industrial") democracy in which the gap I spoke about exists but is many times smaller; (3) Educational democracy with all having access to free education so that they can possibly compete in the market. Absent these, the citizenry might make a choice--but is it an informed choice?
You say wait 'til January. Would you say that to the poor man living with his family in a wooden crate surrounded by debris ? How long can one wait? We are bystanders to this social injustice and as such carry quite a bit of guilt for what is and for what will be the case. All of us should help to change these tremendous social ills with "all deliberate speed" --or face a revolt which, if no other goals is prepared, will end in terror. We--rightly--condemned the German bystanders--how about us??
Dr Erich H. Loewy
Professor of Medicine and Founding Chair of Bioethics (emeritus)
Associate in Philosophy
University of California, Davis