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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Darfur sanctions

I realize that reasonable people of good will can and do disagree about the efficacy of sanctions as a means of promoting human rights in the sanctioned country.  Still, this seems like good news:

President Bush imposed new sanctions Tuesday against the Sudanese government in reaction to the violence in Darfur, preventing 31 companies and three people from doing business in the United States or with U.S. companies.

The three individuals are two high-ranking government officials and a rebel leader, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. They were targeted for fomenting violence and human rights abuses in the Darfur region of western Sudan, the agency said.

"For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians," Bush said. "My administration has called these actions by their rightful name, genocide. The world has a responsibility to help put an end to it."

May 30, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sharia bonds?

According to this story in The Guardian, the British government is "considering borrowing money through bonds that are compliant with sharia law as part of its attempt to boost the City's standing as an attractive place for Muslims to do business."  What do / should we think of this?

May 30, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Interrogation, effectiveness, and moral anthropology

According to this story, in today's New York Times, experts in interrogation methods are criticizing the aggressive interrogation methods which have been employed in recent years against terror-suspects as "outmoded, amateurish and unreliable."  However, "[t]he notion that turning up pressure and pain on a prisoner will produce valuable intelligence is a staple of popular culture from the television series '24' to the recent Republican presidential debate, where some candidates tried to outdo one another in vowing to get tough on captured terrorists."

Now, that they don't work would seem reason enough to abandon coercive interrogation tactics.  But, what if they did work?  I would think that, for us here at MOJ, the tactics' effectiveness -- while relevant -- would not justify their use.I'm reminded here of my own occasional frustration with the abolitionist argument that we should abandon the death penalty because it does not deter, or costs too much.  The question, in both contexts, it seems to me, has to be, "given what the human person is, may this be done to this person?" 

May 30, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Andrew Sullivan on "Enhanced Interrogation"

Normally, in blog discussions, comparing those holding a particular position to Nazis constitutes a violation of Godwin's Law.  But, in this case, (1) the reference is not mine, but Andrew Sullivan's and (2) the comparison is substantively interesting, so I think I'm on safe ground.  Here's a snippet of Sullivan's intriguing post, which is apropos of the exchange we had a while back about commencement speakers, the Bush administration's policies on torture, and the Church's teachings.  Go read the whole thing:

The phrase "Verschärfte Vernehmung" is German for "enhanced interrogation". Other translations include "intensified interrogation" or "sharpened interrogation". It's a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods, as you can see above, are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the president. As you can see from the Gestapo memo, moreover, the Nazis were adamant that their "enhanced interrogation techniques" would be carefully restricted and controlled, monitored by an elite professional staff, of the kind recommended by Charles Krauthammer, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner. At least, that was the original plan.

Also: the use of hypothermia, authorized by Bush and Rumsfeld, was initially forbidden. 'Waterboarding" was forbidden too, unlike that authorized by Bush. As time went on, historians have found that all the bureaucratic restrictions were eventually broken or abridged. Once you start torturing, it has a life of its own. The "cold bath" technique - the same as that used by Bush against al-Qahtani in Guantanamo - was, according to professor Darius Rejali of Reed College,

pioneered by a member of the French Gestapo by the pseudonym Masuy about 1943. The Belgian resistance referred to it as the Paris method, and the Gestapo authorized its extension from France to at least two places late in the war, Norway and Czechoslovakia. That is where people report experiencing it.

In Norway, we actually have a 1948 court case that weighs whether "enhanced interrogation" using the methods approved by president Bush amounted to torture. The proceedings are fascinating, with specific reference to the hypothermia used in Gitmo, and throughout interrogation centers across the field of conflict. The Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration..

UPDATE:  Here's Marty Lederman's (as always) interesting take on Sullivan's post.

May 30, 2007 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Is Religion Any Good?"

Andy Koppelman asks, over at Prof. Balkin's blog, "is religion any good?"  More specifically, he asks, "[i]n what sense, if any, is it permissible for the state to treat religion as a good thing?"  This question is particularly puzzling, he suggests, because "[t]he Establishment Clause 'mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.' . . .

But the Court has also acknowledged that “the Free Exercise Clause, . . . by its terms, gives special protection to the exercise of religion.” This generates a puzzle. It is not logically possible for the government both to be neutral between religion and nonreligion and to give religion special protection. Some justices and many commentators have therefore regarded the First Amendment as in tension with itself. Call this the free exercise/establishment dilemma.

Given this dilemma, Koppelman contends, "[i]t is . . . necessary to revise our understanding of the scope of the Establishment Clause.  The most promising approach is to define the Establishment Clause less abstractly than the Court has, in order to permit the special treatment of religion that is mandated by the Free Exercise Clause."

In my view, Koppelman's law-and-religion work is some of the most helpful and interesting being done.  Check out the post.

On this blog, we might also bring to conversation this, from Dignitatis humanae:

The religious acts whereby men, in private and in public and out of a sense of personal conviction, direct their lives to God transcend by their very nature the order of terrestrial and temporal affairs. Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.

May 30, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Why Do Good People Turn Evil?"

That is the title of Cass Sunstein's review, in The New Republic, of Philip Zimbardo's book, The Lucifer Effect:  Understanding How Good People Turn Evil."  Sunstein discusses, among other things, the "situationalist" view that "horrible acts can be committed by perfectly normal people.  The most extreme situationists insist that in the right circumstances, almost all of us might be led to commit atrocities."  Building on an account of the Milgram Experiments, and the Stanford Prison Experiments, "[Zimbardo] suggests that dispositionism is a serious error, that good and evil are largely a function of our contexts and our roles, and that almost all of us are capable of real evil, given the proper situation. Zimbardo uses his experiment to cast light on diverse problems, including the conduct of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, airplane accidents, human inaction in the face of evident cruelty, the mistreatment of patients in hospitals, and the behavior of suicide bombers and terrorists in general."

I wonder, is the subject of Zimbardo's book really "how good people turn evil" or "why do good people sometimes do evil things"?  These seems like different questions.  And, what would be a virtue-ethics account of the phenomena Zimbardo explores?

UPDATE:  A reader suggests two papers, in response to my virtue-ethics question.  In case others are interested, the papers are:  Christian Miller, "Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics," The Journal of Ethics Vol. 7, pp. 365-92 (2003); and Walter Mischel, et al., "Incorporating If . . . Then Personality Signatures in Person Perception:  Beyond the Person-Situation Dichotomy," J. of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 88, pp. 605-18 (2005).

Continue reading

May 30, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Miller on Excommunication

Over at First Things, Villanova law prof Robert Miller criticizes the Vatican for the conflicting signals sent out regarding the excommunication of Catholic politicians who voted to legalize first-trimester abortions in Mexico.  Here's an excerpt:

The Church’s reluctance to speak straightforwardly about whether Catholic politicians incur an excommunication latae sententiae for their actions related to abortion legislation seems to derive from a desire to avoid embroiling the Church further in the bitter controversies about abortion. If so, such considerations are misguided. The Church has embodied in canon 1398 her judgment that procuring an abortion is a crime so serious that it warrants the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae. If the Church has changed her mind about that, then canon 1398 should be amended accordingly.

Assuming, however, that procuring an abortion is as gravely wrong as the canon implies, then the Church should stand by this judgment. If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life. (Ezek. 3:18–19). Hence, when Catholic politicians violate the canon, the Church should declare openly that they have incurred the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae. The pope, of all people, must be straightforward about the truth of the Gospel (Gal. 2:14).

May 30, 2007 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Successes of Secret Evangelicals and "Quasi-religious" Catholics

Our local paper today reprints, side by side, two fascinating op ed pieces from national papers.  One is Hanna Rosin's piece from the Washington Post "A New Evangelical Establishment", which has a strong tone of warning about the phalanx of accomplished young Evangelicals -- overwhelmingly politically conservative -- positioned to take over our government.  An excerpt:

A 1996 study found that evangelical college students were remarkably unified in their political identification: More than two-thirds called themselves Republicans, and only 9 percent said they were Democrats. At Patrick Henry, I heard a rumor that someone had voted for John Kerry. I chased down many leads. All dead ends. If it was true, no one would publicly admit it.

While testifying this week, Goodling admitted that she had asked inappropriately partisan questions of applicants for civil service jobs. But she never asked about religion, she said. Unlike their elders, the new generation of evangelicals does not turn the cubicle into a pulpit. If they are intent on implementing God's will, they do it with professional discretion.

It took the conservative political movement 30 years to become a fixture in American politics, and it's taken evangelicals about the same. Like conservatives, evangelicals may remain chronically ambivalent, afflicted with a persecution complex despite their obvious successes. But they are embedded firmly enough into Washington to provide jobs for smart young Christians for generations to come.

The other is a David Brooks column appearing in the New York Times on May 25, "The Catholic Boom".  (I can't get it on line at the Star Tribune site and you have to be a TimesSelect subcriber to pull up on the NYT site.  UPDATE:  Faculty & students can sign up for TimesSelect for free at:  http://www.nytimes.com/gst/ts_university_email_verify.html)   The Brooks column explores an article by a Duke sociologist, Lisa Keister, "Upward Wealth Mobility:  Exploring the Roman Catholic Advantage."  Here's the abstract of Keister's article:

Wealth inequality is among the most extreme forms of stratification in the United States, and upward wealth mobility is not common. Yet mobility is possible, and this paper takes advantage of trends among a unique group to explore the processes that generate mobility. I show that non-Hispanic whites raised in Roman Catholic families have been upwardly mobile in the wealth distribution in recent decades, and I find that unique fertility, marriage and education patterns contributed to this change. I also show that Catholic values related to work and money contributed to relatively high saving and portfolio behavior that facilitated mobility. The results provide important insight into the process by which childhood experiences shape adult well-being, particularly adult wealth ownership.

I haven't read all of Keister's article but what Brooks seems to add to Keister's empirical analysis of the data is the judgment that the economic success of these upwardly-mobile young Catholics is related to their shift from being "thoroughly religious" to being "quasi-religious."  He defines the "quasi-religious" as people who "attend services, but they're bored much of the time.  They read the Bible, but find large parts of it odd and irrelevant.  They find themselves inextricably bound to their faith, but think some of the peole who define it are nuts."

Here's how he characterizes the "quasi-religious" young, upwardly mobile Catholics:

On the one hand, modern Catholics have retained many of the traditional patterns of their ancestors -- high marriage rates, high family stability rates, low divorce rates.  Catholic investors save a lot and favor low-risk investment portfolios.  On the other hand, they have also become more individualistic, more future-oriented and less bound by neighborhood and extended family.  They are now much better educated than their parents or grandparents, and much better educated than their family histories would lead you to predict.

That's all demographic-type description that I imagine is documented by the Keister study.  But Brook then adds his thesis on the "quasi-religious" nature of these Catholics:

...if you really wanted to supercharge the nation, you'd fill it with college students who constantly attend church, but who are skeptical of everything they hear there.  For there are at least two things we know about flourishing in a modern society.

First, college students who attend religious services regularly do better than those that don't. . . . Second, students who come from denominations that encourage dissent are more successful, on average, than students from denominations that don't.

This embodies the social gospel annex to the quasi-religous creed:  Always try to be the least believing member of one of the more observant sects.  Participate in organized religious, but be a friendly dissident inside.  Ensconce yourself in traditional moral practice, but champion piecemeal modernization.  Submit to the wisdom of the ages, but with one eye open.

So what are we to make of these two observations?  Conservative Evangelicals are suceeding by hiding their religious views?  Catholics are succeeding by retaining their faith, but substituting boredom and skepticism for religious fervor?  Interesting set of opinions to read side by side.....

May 30, 2007 in Schiltz, Elizabeth | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Zen Story

A zen story, for the high school and/or college graduates among our children, who have heard from the colleges or graduate schools to which they applied, either with good news or with bad—or, more likely, with some of both:

One day a farmer’s horse ran away. That evening his neighbors gathered around to commiserate with the farmer over such bad luck. The farmer said, “May be.” The next day the horse returned, followed by six wild horses. The neighbors couldn’t believe the farmer’s sudden good luck. The farmer said, “May be.” The next day, while trying to ride one of the wild horses, the farmer’s son was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors again commiserated over the farmer’s bad luck, but all he said was, “May be.” The day after that, army officers came through the village conscripting the oldest sons, but the farmer’s son was rejected because of his broken leg. When the neighbors came to say how fortunate everything turned out, the farmer said, “May be.”

May 29, 2007 in Perry, Michael | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Embryo screening in Sweden

"Swedish authorities have granted three families the right to screen embryos to create a child who can be a stem cell donor for a sibling with a deadly illness, officials said on Monday."  Story here.

May 29, 2007 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink | TrackBack (0)