Ethics Alarms Presents With Sorrow: The Worst Ethics Conflict Of All

Dan Quinn's not a soldier any more because he disobeyed orders...and stopped a man from raping a kid in Afghanistan. War is hell.

Dan Quinn’s not a soldier any more because he disobeyed orders…and stopped a man from raping a kid in Afghanistan. War is hell.

An ethics conflict occurs when two unquestionable ethical values demand opposite results in the same situation.

An impossible ethics conflict is when the typical priorities of duty require the worst outcome.

This is an impossible ethics conflict.

Interviews and court records reveal that the American military command has ordered American soldiers and Marines not to intervene in Afghanistan when they observe Afghan military commanders and soldiers raping boys, even when the abuse occurs on military bases. The local practice is called bacha bazi, (“boy play”).  The  policy aims at avoiding conflict and maintaining good relations with the Afghan police and militia units that the United States has trained to fight the Taliban. It also embodies the theory that the U.S. should not  impose its cultural values on other nations. Pederasty is widely accepted in Afghanistan, and being surrounded by young teenagers, a.k.a. male rape victims, is mark of social status for powerful men.

Imagine how bad the Taliban must be if these are “the good guys.”

Asked via e-mail about this American military policy by the New York Times, the American command spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Brian Tribus, replied, “Generally, allegations of child sexual abuse by Afghan military or police personnel would be a matter of domestic Afghan criminal law…there would be no express requirement that U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan report it,” with the exception of when rape is being used as a weapon of war.

Well, we certainly can’t have that. The response ducks the ethical issues entirely. Continue reading

Sparing Bin Laden: Ethics Lessons From Bill Clinton’s 2011 Admission

In an alternate universe, this missile strike prevented 9-11. It doesn't matter.

In an alternate universe, this missile strike prevented 9-11. It doesn’t matter.

Sky News host Paul Murray revealed a previously unreleased audio recording of Bill Clinton speaking to a group of Australian businessman in Melbourne (undoubtedly for an obscene fee, since the Clintons were poor as church mice back then, but I digress) on September 10, 2001.  Clinton’s fascinating answer to an audience question about terrorism has raised a lot of eyebrows:

“Osama bin Laden — he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once. I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

Observations from an ethics perspective: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: National Guard Sergeant Dennis P. Weichel Jr. (1983 -2012)

There are those who say that human beings are incapable of truly altruistic conduct, and that everything we do, no matter how outwardly generous and selfless, is in fact self-serving. There are others, and I am among them, who believe that human beings have natural ethical instincts that lead them to sacrifice for the benefit of society generally, those in peril, and those who are weaker than themselves, especially children. Those instincts can be nurtured by our culture or extinguished by it, but I believe that they are there in most of us….for a while, at least, sometimes weak or dormant, but there, nonetheless.

They were obviously there in Specialist Dennis P. Weichel Jr. of Providence, Rhode Island, a National Guardsman serving in an Afghan province east of Kabul. On March 22, he left the 16-ton gun truck he was riding in to disperse local children who were wandering in front of his heavily armored convoy, searching for treasure, the brass shell casings that could be melted down for other uses or be sold.  Suddenly a small girl saw a casing and ran into the path of one of the huge military vehicles. Weichel, a father of three, dashed to her, grabbed her, and threw her to safety unharmed. The gun truck struck the Guardsman instead, fatally injuring him.

Weichel was engaged to be married. He is the first member of the Rhode Island National Guard to die in Afghanistan.

Nothing can erase the tragedy of the U.S. serviceman who turned mass murderer in Afghanistan a month ago, and Weichel’s heroism is unlikely to change any hearts and minds there. That wasn’t Weichel’s objective anyway. He saw a young life in danger and acted, risking his own. It would be a better United States if all of us were raised to react as he did, and if our culture more unambiguously encouraged our best instincts rather than our worst ones. The cliché mouthed by politicians is that our military combat personnel are fighting for American values. Dennis Weichel demonstrated that they also carry American values with them, and in his case, he displayed the very finest.

Weichel was promoted posthumously from specialist to sergeant and awarded the Bronze Star, which is appropriate, and Rhode Island’s flags are being flown at half-mast. The honor he most deserves, however, is to be remembered and emulated by the rest of us.

Obama’s Latest Apology

Not that it worked, but...

Regardless of where one stands on accusations that President Obama has been too generous with apologies (regrets, acknowledged mistakes, etc.) to foreign nations, there should be no argument over whether his apology to his Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the inadvertent burning of copies of the Quran by American soldiers was appropriate. It was,  it was also responsible and necessary, and it required a measure of political courage for which the President deserves praise, not criticism.

As properly explained by Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation specializing in South and Central Asia (who is obviously not running for the Republican presidential nomination), “It was an important demonstration of respect for the Afghan people and their religious faith.” President Obama was attempting to defuse a potentially explosive situation, protect the fragile situation in Afghanistan and avoid American deaths.

This was responsible diplomacy. The Republicans who are taking cheap shots at President Obama for this should be ashamed of themselves.

Integrity, Politics, and Medal of Honor Ethics

The Medal of Honor

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a Marine veteran who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, is leading an effort to loosen the standards being applied to the awarding of the Medal of Honor for combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In an Oct. 4 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Hunter argued that Medals of Honor are being denied in cases where they appear to be well-deserved and that the process of approving awards takes too long. He asked the Defense Department to conduct a review of hundreds of such cases. “Properly recognizing these actions through the awards process is not just important to the individuals involved, but it is also essential to upholding the tradition of the armed forces and inspiring others to step forward,” Hunter wrote.

Great: now we have an advocate for heroism inflation. Continue reading

The ACLU Gives Us a Lesson in Principles

Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More

“What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?…And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide…the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down…do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”—- Sir Thomas More [Played by Paul Scofield, scripted by Robert Bolt (in a speech adapted from More’s writings) in the film of “A Man for All Seasons” (1966)]

My opinion of Rev. Terry Jones is a matter of record; to summarize, I think he is well beneath Charlie Sheen, Donald Trump, Tom DeLay, Goldman Sachs, Nancy Pelosi, Eliot Spitzer, AIG, Charlie Rangel , Mark Sanford, Barry Bonds, “Ronbo” and most of the other members in bad standing on the Ethics Alarms Bottom 100. Determined as he is to sully the First Amendment with his disgraceful and hate-soaked use of it, however, he is an American, and he has rights. A Dearborn, Michigan jury, prompted by the city, has taken away those rights by preventing him and another fool from protesting outside a local mosque. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: #1 American Asshole, Rev. Terry Jones

...or "The Rev. Terry Jones Story"

“If you want to be technical, I guess we broke our word. We thought twice about it.”

—-Rev. Terry Jones, agreeing with criticism that he had promised last September not to burn the Quran, but did so anyway last month when he felt that his anti-Islam campaign was not getting enough headlines.

If you want to be technical, Rev. Jones is probably the biggest asshole in the United States right now. I know, I know—civility. But there are rare situations in which only our crudest, most insulting words can fairly describe individuals and acts. Rev. Jones richly deserves the asshole label, indeed the U.S. Champion, Gold Plated, #1 Asshole label, because nothing else adequately describes his reckless, self-promoting, hateful, irresponsible, deadly, virtually treasonous conduct—all completely legal, of course.

What do you call someone who pours gasoline on a brush fire to get attention? Jerk is too mild. What do you call someone who intentionally makes a difficult problem of international perception even more difficult—intentionally? Fool is too kind.  Unethical, my staple, is too abstract. There just is no civil term for someone like Jones. Continue reading

No Time for Brackets

Thank God THAT's taken care of...

I don’t need to go into great detail on this; either it bothers you, or it doesn’t.

I strongly suspect there are many of President Obama’s supporters who are bothered, but will never admit it: hence the silence from the mainstream media. I am certain that there are many on the Right who are bothered, but since they are bothered by everything the President does, their annoyance is easy to dismiss. Many, I know, won’t see it, can’t see it, don’t care, and will just turn their attention other matters with a shrug, if that. For my part, I am bothered because I believe that leaders have to be competent and to engender trust by showing good judgment, and I believe the President of the United States has an added obligation to maintain the weight, credibility, and honor of the office, and therefore its strength.

President Obama’s special invitation to ESPN to come to the White House and announce his bracket picks for the NCAA basketball tournament was as frightening a demonstration of tone-deaf leadership malpractice as I have seen, or read about, from any of the 12 U.S. Presidents of my lifetime. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Crane Interiors in Woodbury, Tenn.

"Hi! I can't answer the phone now, but please leave a message!"

Teresa Danford’s son, Lance Cpl. Mark Rhyne, is deployed in Afghanistan, where he is only able to call home once or twice a month. He has been overseas for seven months. On Valentine’s Day, Teresa, an employee of Crane Interiors in Woodbury, Tennessee, received one of her son’s precious phone calls at her job, on her personal cell phone. She was promptly suspended for three days without pay, for Crane has a no cell phone call policy for employees. Her manager informed her that she would be fired if it ever happened again. Continue reading

Summer Rerun: “Ending the Bi-Partisan Effort to Destroy Trust in America”

[TV is full of reruns these days, and sometimes I am grateful for them, for it gives me a chance to see episodes of favorite shows I had missed for some reason or another. Back in early March, I posted the following essay about the origins of America’s current crisis of trust in our government, and how it might be cured by our elected leaders. Since then, the crisis has deepened, and as I was doing some routine site maintenance, I reread the post. It is still very timely (unfortunately), and since far fewer people were visiting Ethics Alarms in March, I decided to re-post it today, with just a few minor edits. I promise not to make this a habit. Still, trust is the reason why ethics is so important in America: if there is a single post of the more than 700 I have written here since October 2009  that I would like people to read, this is it.] Continue reading