Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Questions on "The Banality of Evil"

Vincent discusses (below) a news story about disturbing, sexually charged interrogation tactics employed on Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay.

I assume we all agree that respect for human dignity should constrain the activities of interrogators (and, indeed, all government officials), even (especially?) in war time, even in cases involving persons who -- like many of the Guantanamo detainees, I imagine -- mean us harm, and certainly without regard to whether persons "look Western."  (I'm confident -- though I understand that some of my colleagues disagree -- that the relevant officials in our government endorse these propositions, too).

Now, because we live in politically charged times and these are sensitive topics -- and because, in the academy and in the public square, it seems that people are often inclined to misread those with whom they disagree -- I want to emphasize that I do not at all endorse, condone, defend, or approve of the tactics described by Vincent or recounted in the news story to which I linked above.  That said, I would welcome thoughts on what I intend to be a serious question: 

Putting aside the specific sleazy tactics at issue in Vincent's post, is it the case that an appropriate respect for human dignity absolutely rules out all interrogation tactics -- employed, let's assume here, on persons who are being otherwise humanely treated, where there is a reasonable basis to believe the persons have information about potential or past terrorist attacks -- designed to "break a suspect's reliance on God"? 

Now, it seems clear to me that forcing someone -- anyone -- to perform an act or profess a belief against conscience or obligation, even in a pressing interrogation setting, should be off the table.  (Am I right about this?)  Let's put aside such tactics.  But is it the case that the purpose or desire to "break a suspect's reliance on God" -- where there is reason to believe that the suspect's "reliance on God" is strengthening the suspect's resolve not to provide information that, let's assume, the interrogator is within her moral rights to want -- itself renders an interrogation practice immoral?  For example, does it violate our obligation to respect human dignity to use female interrogators to question strictly observant Muslim suspects?  If not, does the answer change if the reason for using female interrogators is a hope that using women questioners will "break the suspect's reliance on God"?  If the answer does change -- and I cannot help thinking that it might -- can we articulate why it changes?



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