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A good piece, by John Tasioulas but I’m left wanting more.

“But is it enough to rely on the supposed fact that human rights are embedded in a liberal democratic culture? Or do we need to be able to step back from that culture and offer an objective justification for the principles embedded in it, as the philosophers have long supposed? The problem is that social expectations and cultural assumptions not only vary significantly across societies, but that they are fragile: various forces ranging from globalisation to propaganda can cause them to change dramatically or even wither away. Would rights against gender or racial discrimination disappear if sexist or racist attitudes come to predominate?

The question is not fanciful. Once apparently settled beliefs about the impermissibility of torture or the rights of refugees have recently suffered a backlash. There can be backsliding as well as progress, with no guarantees either way. Social expectations and deep cultural assumptions are no more a sufficient basis for human rights than the law is. There is a fatal contradiction in defending human rights against the rising authoritarianism of a ‘post-truth’ era while simultaneously abandoning the belief that our commitment to those rights is itself grounded in the truth, and being prepared to defend it on that basis.

My own view is that human rights are rooted in the universal interests of human beings, each and every one of whom possesses an equal moral status arising from their common humanity. In other words, in defending human rights, we will need to appeal to the inherent value of being a member of the human species and, in addition, the interests shared by all human beings in things like friendship, knowledge, achievement, play, and so on. And we will need to ask whether these considerations generate duties that are owed to each and every human being. This proposal is hardly uncontroversial. The appeal to the inherent value of humanity will be contested by some as a brute prejudice – a ‘speciesism’ on a par with racism. Similarly, the appeal to universal interests will be contested by those who think that human rights are ultimately about respecting individual freedom regardless of whether it advances the right-holder’s well-being.

Whether I’m right or not, I am convinced that we cannot sustain our commitment to human rights on the cheap, by invoking only the law or the assumptions of our liberal democratic culture. Only a deeper justification can explain why we are right to embody them in the law, or maintain a liberal democratic culture, in the first place. This has precisely been the aim of philosophical defences of human rights from the 12th century up until very recent times. To keep our human rights culture in good order, we cannot avoid engaging with the question of justification.”

Tasioulas has some lofty notions about the universal interests of human beings, I would in argue that the societies in our culture/world systematically devalue the intrinsic worth of individual human beings, whether it be in the pursuit of racist or monetary ends, it leads to the same grim conclusion – your humanity is dependent on what social class you inhabit and the colour of your skin and what sex you are.

The celebratory mood seems to have died down a little in the US as perhaps they realize celebrating the gross violation of international law loud and proud might not be such a good thing.  If the same sort of action where to happen to us, we would not be in such a happy mood, I can guarantee it.  Noam Chomsky wrote an article, appearing on Alternet, that I quote for this post.

“The authors add: “For many at the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency who had spent nearly a decade hunting bin Laden, killing the militant was a necessary and justified act of vengeance.” Furthermore, “Capturing bin Laden alive would have also presented the administration with an array of nettlesome legal and political challenges.” Better, then, to assassinate him, dumping his body into the sea without the autopsy considered essential after a killing, whether considered justified or not – an act that predictably provoked both anger and skepticism in much of the Muslim world.”

Yet another fine act of terror to bring us closer in our relations with those who are different that us.  People watch and listen to see how Western powers act, as we are the self-proclaimed standard bearers of civilization.  What standard to we set when we ignore the rule of law?

“The authors [from the Atlantic Monthly] quote former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who “told German TV that the U.S. raid was ‘quite clearly a violation of international law’ and that bin Laden should have been detained and put on trial,” contrasting Schmidt with US Attorney General Eric Holder, who “defended the decision to kill bin Laden although he didn’t pose an immediate threat to the Navy SEALs, telling a House panel on Tuesday that the assault had been ‘lawful, legitimate and appropriate in every way’.”

At least all of Western ‘civilization’ is not on board the assassination train.  Germany is not on board, the UK of course is, but then again they do allow for a touch more dissent to hit the media.

“Geoffrey Robertson, who supported the intervention and opposed the execution largely on pragmatic grounds, nevertheless described Obama’s claim that “justice was done” as an “absurdity” that should have been obvious to a former professor of constitutional law. Pakistan law “requires a colonial inquest on violent death, and international human rights law insists that the ‘right to life’ mandates an inquiry whenever violent death occurs from government or police action. The U.S. is therefore under a duty to hold an inquiry that will satisfy the world as to the true circumstances of this killing.” Robertson adds that “The law permits criminals to be shot in self-defense if they (or their accomplices) resist arrest in ways that endanger those striving to apprehend them. They should, if possible, be given the opportunity to surrender, but even if they do not come out with their hands up, they must be taken alive if that can be achieved without risk. Exactly how bin Laden came to be ‘shot in the head’ (especially if it was the back of his head, execution-style) therefore requires explanation.”

Clearly, rules were not followed in this case. History provides a telling counterpoint to that action undertaken by Obama and the US.

“Robertson usefully reminds us that “It was not always thus. When the time came to consider the fate of men much more steeped in wickedness than Osama bin Laden — namely the Nazi leadership — the British government wanted them hanged within six hours of capture. President Truman demurred, citing the conclusion of Justice Robert Jackson that summary execution ‘would not sit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride…the only course is to determine the innocence or guilt of the accused after a hearing as dispassionate as the times will permit and upon a record that will leave our reasons and motives clear’.”

Was OBL the same as the German leadership post WW2.  Of course not, but the idea remains the same.  If we were just in our actions, they should stand in a neutral court and be proven accountable so that history and the world can see how justice is done.  Would it be wrong to run a scenario that involved us on the other end of the stick?

“It might be instructive to ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic (after proper burial rites, of course). Uncontroversially, he is not a “suspect” but the “decider” who gave the orders to invade Iraq — that is, to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: in Iraq, the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country and the national heritage, and the murderous sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region. Equally uncontroversially, these crimes vastly exceed anything attributed to bin Laden.”

Whoops, getting a little uncomfortable isn’t it?  Read the rest of this entry »

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