UPDATE 04.21.09 Clearly President Obama read my blog. Hopefully after I edited out all of the incorrect possessive apostrophes.
During the primaries, I was a sworn Hillary Clinton fan. She remains a loyal yet appropriately dissenting patriot who often speaks strongly about the responsibilities of the USA in foreign affairs. (Though in this particular instance, I think USA drug policies suck in a very different way than she does). However, I feel honoured to be politically aware during the first American presidency of a black man; Obama certainly moves me when he speaks, I feel he could be a catalyst for progressive change, and no, I don’t hope he fails.
But today I must lament “No, Obama!” because of this.
As the first line of my newly started overdue paper for Philosophy of War and Peace says, President Obama’s decision to forgo the prosecution of CIA agents who committed acts of torture because they were acting on the counsel of the Department of Justice and following orders poses a distinct ideology of utility, identity, and action as pertains to sanctioned, violent representatives of the government of the United States. And this ideology is not one I am a fan of (note: this sentence is not from my paper).
This paper is about rules of engagement and a soldier’s responsibility to peace and pacifism. This is a very different approach to that of the philosophers who I am responding to that mostly discuss a soldier’s responsibility to their government. And while dogmatic obedience is certainly ingrained into trained forces, the reality is that their actions are the actions of an individual and moreover, these actions are acts of violence and therefore carry a certain responsibility. And in the case of the CIA agents, these acts, sanctioned or otherwise, are particularly heinous and the lack of responsibility particularly egregious.
Acts of war are essentially individual acts of violence enacted by individuals,or groups of individuals, sometimes under orders and some times not. But in either case, we can’t suggest that the actors are completely blameless. For one, Obama’s plans to not prosecute violates obviously weak, though present, international law. Second, let’s apply the good ol’ ethical litmus test: Nazis. Nazis unsuccessfully argued the ‘I was only following orders’ at Nuremberg. Well I, for one, am really glad they were unsuccessful; if you’re a Nazi, you’re pretty much guilty of BEING A FUCKING NAZI. The whole only-following-orders thing is not a particularly good ethical argument, especially when it comes to horrific acts of violence, like genocide, or torture.
Obama should be taking a cue from Clinton and start owning up to the actions of Americans, even past actions, instead of shuffling the docket back an administration. Releasing the memos of the Bush administration that sanctioned the torture and not prosecuting the agents who actually committed the torture is scape-goating the dead horse. We get it, Bush was bad. And yes, I believe he was a war criminal too. But a war cannot be fought without willing soldiers, and torture cannot be performed without willing torturers.
I am absolutely sympathetic to the soldier complex. I do support the women and men who are risking their lives to help others. That is helping others. Not torturing them. The international laws are pretty clear and the ethical question, as far as I am concerned, is even clearer and one would hope CIA agents are intelligent enough to know the difference between an ‘order’ and a ‘crime against humanity’ and those that can’t should be held to account.