Drone Ethics: The Policy and the Memo

Hey, Fox News! INCOMING!!!

Hey, Fox News! INCOMING!!!

With the leak of the Obama Administration’s Justice Department memo laying out  alleged legal and Constitutional justification for targeted drone killings abroad, the ethical debate over this practice finally began in earnest. Back in October of 2011, I visited this topic in a post titled, “The Ethically Messy, Legally Muddled, Drone Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki,” who was an American citizen and also an al-Qaida leader and terrorist, and wrote…

“I am far less confident of a conclusion that the killing was legal than I am that the killing was ethical in a situation where traditional rules and considerations don’t fit the situation well, meaning that decision-makers must go outside the rules to find the right, meaning ethical, course of action.  And I’m even not 100% confident of that.”

This still accurately encompasses my view, although my confidence in the position has declined materially, in part because of the memo. However, my position in 2011 was based on the assumption, using the Bush Administration’s position, that the United States was engaged in a de facto war with al-Qaida, and as a tool of war, killer drones  are within ethical bounds by my analysis. The leaked memo, however, begins with the assumption that the drone strikes are not part of ongoing declared warfare, but rather a new variety of cross-border lethal intervention that has no legitimate statutory basis. I think that under those assumptions, targeting drone killings are illegal, unethical, and to the extent that they give the President of the United States the power to kill someone in any nation based on his assessment that person needs killing, ominous.

I’ll leave the legal analysis of the memo to others. For now, other than pointing readers to my earlier analysis of drone killings in the context of warfare, I just have some observations: Continue reading

Ethics Quote of the Week: Prof. Paul Horwitz

“I can think of a number of posts about the ACA from legal scholars last week that were clearly and openly offered as advocacy and did a fine job of it. And I can think of others that were clearly not offered as advocacy at all, and said useful and interesting things about the oral arguments…But I do believe that some posts last week traded on the authority of their authors, made overconfident or disingenuous claims about the state of current law and the strength or weakness of opposing arguments, and did so for strategic reasons. I see those reasons as more inculpatory than exculpatory. I don’t see the minimal requirements for scholarly integrity that I offered as changing because of the medium, or because of the importance and currency of the case.”

Hey, Professor! We assume you're smarter than we are: don't play games with our trust!

—-University of Alabama Law Professor Paul Horwitz, writing about the confounding number of liberal law professors and scholars who wrote internet posts professing that the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate was obvious and undeniable, and that the provision’s Supreme Court approval was assured. As Ethics Alarms did regarding other commentators, Prof. Horwitz suggests that some of the commentary was designed as spin, or to use his term, to “shape the narrative.” He argues that in cases where the scholar was deliberately over-stating the case for constitutionality, this constituted a breach of integrity and honesty. Hie professor-speak for this is “inculpatory.” He means that it was unethical.

Which, of course, it was. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce and All-Time Most Unethical Group With “Ethics” In Its Name: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

I'm SO glad my boyfriend joined PETA!

The People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals seems to be unable to grasp the simple concept that if you show yourself to be completely insensitive to matters of right and wrong involving human beings, nobody in their right mind is going care what you think constitutes the ethical treatment of animals. The latest in a long trail of proof: before the disturbing controversy over the pro-Chris Brown tweets had cooled and in the wake of the death Whitney Houston, a former of domestic abuse victim. PETA thought it was the perfect time to release a new ad celebrating the desirability of being able to harm women in the bedroom.

The 30 second spot shows a young woman without pants and wearing a neck brace as she painfully walks to her apartment. “This is Jessica,” narrator says. “She suffers from ‘BWVAKTBOOM,’ ‘Boyfriend Went Vegan and Knocked the Bottom Out of Me,’ a painful condition that occurs when boyfriends go vegan and can suddenly bring it like a tantric porn star.” Jessica reaches the apartment and smilingly get ready for another round of presumably rough sex.

There are many terms that accurately describe men who are so uninterested in the women they have intimate relations with that they cause them pain and take pride in it. Rapists. Abusers. Max Cady. Sadists. Misogynists. Ass-holes.

“Vegans” is not one of them.

“PETA members,” perhaps.


Global Warming Advocates Flunk Ethics, and Credibility…Again

Never mind!

The evidence for global warming is pretty overwhelming, though still possessing some holes, and the likelihood is that much of the change is man-made. That’s about as far as the scientific evidence goes, however, without getting into serious controversy. The dire climate chance projections continue to be questionable at best, which poses problems for environmentalists who want to use climate change as a wedge to shut down industry, and alarmists who are frightened out of their wits by science they really don’t understand. Rather than demonstrate that the science is unbiased and credible by acknowledging the uncertainty, the global warming community, including elected officials with agendas, radical anti-industrialists, various research, political and advocacy groups and a depressing number of scientists who know better—and Al Gore…can’t forget Al!—have resorted to outrageous scare tactics and apocalyptic “projections.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Muslim women, in ethical garb

During last week’s hearings on the alleged radicalization of Muslim-Americans, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, protesting that the hearings were an example of prosecution and bigotry, said:

“Islam is a religion based upon peace, goodwill and the ethical treatment of all people on this planet.”

Politics involves advocacy, and zealous advocacy sometimes metastasizes into exaggerations, overstatements, and lies. Determined governors are called dictators and criminals; those questioning global warming models are compared to Holocaust deniers. Believing that an attack on an enemy nation is in the best interests of America, leaders who should be saying, “We have good reason to believe that this nation has weapons of mass destruction and is inclined to use them,” say instead, “We know where the weapons are and the threat is imminent.” Other leaders who are trying to get important health care reforms passed say, “Don’t worry—if you like your current plan, you’ll be able to keep it!”, neglecting to add the caveat that that plan you like may be forced out of existence if the bill is passed.

These excesses range from deceitful to outright lying, but they are all unethical, all disrespectful of the truth and the public that has a right to it, all aimed at manipulating public opinion with falsity.

I find Kucinich’s statement especially indefensible, because the degree of his presumably misstatement of the truth was completely unnecessary if his motives were good. Continue reading

The Tears of Keith Ellison

The grand drama at Rep. Peter King’s Congressional hearings investigating the radicalization of American Muslims last week was provided by Rep. Keith Ellison, who broke down crying while telling the story of a Muslim-American hero, Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who rushed to lower Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 to assist in rescue efforts, and died in the collapse of the World Trade Center. Ellison said:

After the tragedy some people tried to smear his character solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers only because he was Muslim. It was only when his remains were identified that these lies were fully exposed. Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be defined as a member of an ethnic group or a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow citizens.

I found the performance odd and vaguely troubling, and now that I’ve thought about it for a few days, I know why. The statement by Ellison, who converted to Islam, and the tears that accompanied it, raise a few ethical issues, beginning with the Ethics Alarms standard, “What’s going on here?” Continue reading

ABC News Breaches Its Duty Not To Make The Public Stupid

Give generously to save victims of ABC's "This Week."

On ABC’s Sunday public affairs show “This Week,” the usually admirable Jake Tapper breached the broadcast journalist’s duty not to promote logically flawed arguments that will make the public dumber than it already is.

Debating with his guests the merits of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to severely reduce the collective bargaining rights of public unions, Tapper cited an intellectually dishonest New Republic article by Joseph McCartin which used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make this statement: Continue reading

Teachers Unions: Not Unethical, Just Uninterested in the Public Welfare

His union is competent; it's just that he isn't

Public unions and their Democratic supporters (and supported) are not going to have much luck winning the public relations battle with Republicans as long as teachers unions are front and center. Teachers unions are not— I repeat not-–primarily concerned with the welfare of schoolchildren, or the public, or the deficit, or even education. Their priority is the welfare of their membership, and if any of those other stakeholders have to take it on the chin to make sure that the teachers have good salaries, benefits and iron-clad job security, well, that’s just the way of the world.

This doesn’t make teachers unions unethical any more than lawyers are unethical to represent their clients. But it does mean that any time a teacher’s union official claims to be concerned with anything but his members, he or she is lying through their teeth. And that is unethical. Continue reading

MSNBC Case Study: When the Media Decides To Tell The Whole Truth

Yesterday, as she fumed at President Obama’s compromise with Republican to preserve most of the Bush tax cuts for two more years, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did something she has scrupulously avoided doing in the past: she actually called the President on an outright lie. Mocking Obama’s claim that he got major concessions from Republicans, Maddow read a series of reports proving that the “Child Tax Credit,” which Obama had said was something he had to bargain to get included in the package against GOP opposition, was in fact something the Republican leadership always supported. Good for her…except…. Continue reading

Daniel Schorr’s Ethical Legacy

It was interesting, though a little jarring, to read and hear the outpouring of admiration for the late CBS and NPR journalist Daniel Schorr, who died last week at the age of 93, even as the same sources were decrying the biases of Fox News. For Daniel Schorr was the herald of ideologically slanted journalism, though he never admitted it and was notable for his self-congratulatory dedication to what he called journalistic ethics. His legacy is what we have now: self-righteous journalists who refuse to separate fact from opinion, and whose definition of “fair and balanced” is “expose the bad guys—that is, those who we think are the bad guys.”

Some of the odes to Schorr’s career themselves defy any reasonable definition of objective reporting. During his 25 years at NPR, Schorr comfortably settled into reliably pro-liberal, pro-Democrat reporting, calling, for example, the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, “a judicial coup” by “the Gang of Five, philosophically led by archconservative Antonin Scalia.”

“Some critics of Schorr and NPR felt his analysis veered into opinion — that he had a profoundly liberal take on the world that became more evident over time,” said NPR in its obituary of Schorr.

Gee…How could they think such a thing? Continue reading