Notes From Babel

It’s Still OK to Make Moral Arguments

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With my tirade out of the way about finding legal arguments where moral ones should be, I would be remiss if I did not also emphasize the importance of public scrutiny and civil dissent regarding our interrogation and detention practices. To this end, a reader directed me to two good articles, here and here, that should set the alarm bells ringing as good moral citizens.

Again, although I believe there is extremely broad, if not unlimited, discretion regarding what an American president can do as commander-in-chief with respect to foreign affairs in furtherance of national security interests, we should not be so agnostic as to what should be done, and not be done, to secure these ends. After all, we are the Zeitgeist — our attitudes shape the background limits of cultural and moral acceptability. These attitudes need to be articulated.

So, at the risk of extreme self-deprecation, don’t give the devil (i.e., folks like me) a foothold. All the noise and chatter behind the wrong-headed arguments – making legal claims in moral arenas – gives the impression that there is no good reason to be critical of our nation’s interrogation and detention policies. By conjuring up elegant-sounding legal arguments that fall flat in the end we take attention away from the important (although squishy) moral issues at stake.


Written by Tim Kowal

April 2, 2009 at 7:49 pm

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