June 21, 2005

What Will We Tell the Children? Or Youngish Adults?

[UPDATE: Billmon has more, via Michael Froomkin.]

According to The New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld is considering a promotion of General Ricardo Sanchez. [Sanchez's promotion seems to have been reguarly scheduled. It doesn't matter. He should be in a cell in Leavenworth or the Hague.]

Such a move, which has been urged by senior Army officers and civilian officials now that an Army inquiry has cleared General Sanchez of wrongdoing, seems to reflect a growing confidence that the military has put the abuse scandal behind it.

I'll give the mike to Phil Carter on what it means that Sanchez was 'cleared'.

[C]ommanders (and NCOs) are responsible for everything their unit(s) do or fail to do, period. A commander, especially a general officer, is not just responsible for those things he/she ordered, but for those things that he/she knew about or should have known about. This is the essence of the mantle of command.... Based on the evidence contained in the Taguba report, Schlesinger report, Fay-Jones report, and the Church report, as well as the volume of documents obtained by the ACLU's FOIA litigation, I believe there to be sufficient evidence to find probable cause that these senior officers committed criminal failures of leadership. One of the worst scandals in American military history happened on their watch, under their direction, at least partly due to conditions under their control. And yet, the highest-ranking individual to see prosecution so far for these abuses is a Staff Sergeant.

But it should be no surprise that the Bush Administration considers Sanchez to be washed pure as the driven snow. This is the president who said about his Iraq policy, "We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," as if his actions were not always accountable to the American people--and to his conscience, and to God. For Bush and his subordinates, accountability seems to mean whatever you can officially get away with.

Many things make me angry about this--the gratuitous suffering taking place in our prison camps, the dishonor done to me and my country when our government tortures in our name, the increased danger to me and my loved ones, the harm to the ideas of democracy and human rights from their contemptuous treatment by the country that should be their greatest exemplar.

But there's something a little more personal here. I'm going to be teaching ethics to accountants at Texas Tech. Part of the point, I believe is that they learn to do the right thing for their own sake--that ethics isn't just this stupid set of rules that they need to work around on their way to the tall dollars. I wish our national leadership weren't currently sending the message that ethics is whatever you can get away with. It probably won't make my job easier.

In closing, Adam Kotsko:

If you have devoted considerable space to explaining away every "allegation" of "misconduct" in American interogation techniques, then you lack the moral judgment of an eight-year-old child.... Insistence that one turn a blind eye to the abuses of one's own government in order to denounce the abuses of others, separated by wide expanses of time and space from oneself, is an affront to the principle of democratic self-governance. If anything should count as "un-American," such rhetoric should -- it denegrates the legitimate right and privilege of the people of the United States to exercise the principle of democratic self-governance, in favor of giving those in power a free hand to do whatever they want. Such servile authoritarian rhetoric, of which we get reams and reams spewed forth from the unoffical Republican Party organs represented by Fox News, the right-wing press, and bloggers such as Glen Reynolds, is absolutely contrary to the principles on which this country was founded and should be denounced, execrated, and shouted down by all those who take seriously their responsibilities as citizens in a democratic polity and as rational human agents.

(I've clipped Adam's point 2 because I don't fully agree. Some of the people in our prison camps need to be put on trial and, if found guilty, locked up. But he is right that Guantanamo Bay needs to be shut down as soon as possible. The whole purpose of putting prison camps in Guantanamo Bay is to create a zone where we are not bound by laws--not our own or any others. That is not acceptable in any way.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at June 21, 2005 02:33 PM

I am teaching business ethics in the fall, too. And I have been thinking about how to deal with the question of why business people should care about ethics at all. And that they should care about ethics for their own sake, does not seem to be a reason that has been very motivating, since business seems very consequentialist driven. At any rate, I think one of the nagging questions we will have to answer is one bioethics folks have to tackle when talking to medical professionals--why should you (someone outside of my profession) tell me what I ought to be doing? I do not tell you how to do your job, what gives you authority to tell me how to do mine, and more importantly, why should I listen? Pepe's dissertation answers these questions and more...but just some stuff to think about, at any rate.

Posted by: Diana Buccafurni at June 22, 2005 10:55 AM