Comment of the Day: “Osama’s Assassination: The Ethics Elephant in the Room”

First time commenter Margo Schulter delivers a powerful, passionate and eloquent absolutist rebuttal to my post asserting an ethical defense of Osama bin Laden’s targeted killing/assassination/execution by U.S. military personnel. My immediate response to her can be found in the comments to the original post here; I don’t want to re-post it with this post because Margo’s thoughtful comment should be read and thought about prior to considering my rebuttal. Ethics Alarms is blessed with many sharp and persuasive comments, and this is one of the finest. In the grand tradition of absolutism, her answer to my question about firing the bullet that would kill an unarmed and submissive Osama  is “I wouldn’t fire that bullet to save the whole universe.” And she explains why:

“Please let me try to put my best foot forward, and keep a spirit of civility and friendly inquiry, as I say that my whole being — my guts, heart, intuition, and intellect –cry out, “No exceptions! Executions, extrajudicial or legal, are _wrong_!” I wonder what an MRI might show, and what neuroethics might say, about how people in the U.S.A. and elsewhere have such different reactions to what I would call a consummately evil and dehumanizing act.

“Please let me also apologize for the length of this comment, nevertheless just the starting point for a dialogue with lots of ramifications. How do pacifists like me see the scale of moral evils in different kinds of violence, and when might we consider using certain forms of nonlethal force? Also, there’s a way that President Obama might have modified his strategy a bit to fit Frances Kamm’s Doctrine of Triple Effect (DTE), illustrating what I see as the dangers of this intellectually intriguing concept. I’d love to join a dialogue going in any or all of these directions.

“It’s curious. You write, “I assume you shoot him dead.” And my whole being cries out, “You assume wrong!” While I’m not a physicalist, I do recognize that while we’re in this world experience and behavior are mediated through the brain, so I wonder what an MRI or the like would show for
people who have these radically different intuitions. Continue reading

Osama’s Assassination: The Ethics Elephant in the Room

You are one of the Navy Seals raiding Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound. Bin Laden rushes out, with a white flag, shouting “Mercy!”, “I surrender!” and “I’m so, so sorry!” He throws his flag down, puts his hands up, and falls to his knees, pleading for his life. What do you do?

I assume that you shoot him dead. I would. Is this ethically defensible? Continue reading

Illinois’s Death Penalty Ban: Defensible Decision, Indefensible Reasoning

Justice.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn  signed legislation abolishing capital punishment in the state and commuted the sentences of the 15 inmates still on death row to life in prison without parole.

I disagree with the decision, and have stated my reasons for not abolishing the death penalty here and here. Never mind: this is a topic on which ethical and reasonable people can disagree with honor. But if one is going to abolish an important law enforcement tool, the official justification for it ought to be coherent and persuasive, and not just facile rhetoric. That, unfortunately, is what Gov. Quinn gave us.

Here is the relevant segment of Quinn’s statement after signing the bill into law during a private ceremony: Continue reading

Ethics Final For Barack Obama

Is President Obama the fair, ethical, unifying, anti-partisan president of all the people that he promised to be in 2008, or is he a Machiavellian, undercover Chicago pol, willing and ready to use divisiveness and deceit to enhance his power, silence critics and advance his agenda? During the past two years, there has been ample evidence supporting both descriptions, but his address in Arizona Wednesday could settle the issue. If the President emulates his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, using the massacre in Arizona as a political wedge the way Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing—if he adopts the philosophy of former Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel that one should never waste a crisis—then we will know the dispiriting truth about Barack Obama. Continue reading

On the Post-Shooting Finger-Pointing Apology Watch

It may be that the first apology for the partisan rush to lay twenty shootings and five deaths at the doorstep of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and conservatives came from Arizona Daily Star’s cartoonist, Dave Fitzsimmons, and the paper itself in an editorial today. It began with a statement from the cartoonist, and continued: Continue reading

It’s Come to This: The Schoolboard Shooter Spin Competition

The frightening incident in which a man held a Panama City, Florida school board at gun point (he was ultimately shot and killed by a security officer) is somehow being used…or is being perceived as being used…to discredit both the Right and the Left in ultra-polarized America. Yet it has absolutely nothing to do with either. Continue reading

Joy and Whoopi’s Unethical Bully Tactic

To have seen it live, you have to watch The View, which is not good for your brain or digestion, and be willing to watch Bill O’Reilly, which requires a tolerance for arrogant certitude that is only present in certain genetically gifted individuals. But on the video clip, you can see O’Reilly explaining why about 70% of Americans think that the Muslim center being planned for construction near the site of the September 11 terrorist is “inappropriate,”  saying “Muslims killed us on 9/11.” The View’s co-host Whoopi Goldberg took violent offense at the statement, exclaiming, “No! Not, oh, my god. That is such bullshit!” [Note: It is not “bullshit.” Muslims indeed performed the attack, in the name of Muhammad no less. ] O’Reilly, understandably confused, said, “Muslims didn’t kill us on 9/11? Is that what you’re saying?” Continue reading

What is the “Worst” Behavior? Don’t Ask Conservative Bloggers!

John Hawkins of Right Wing News persuaded 43 conservative bloggers to send him their list of the twenty worst Americans in history. He then compiled a list of “The 25 Worst Americans” using their responses, with the rankings based on the number of blogger who listed an individual.

The list is disturbing, but not for the reasons you think.  What does it say about the priorities and values of conservative bloggers that the “worst American” among all the criminals, serial killers, scoundrels and sociopaths America has produced is, by this method of measurement...wait for it…

...Jimmy Carter? Continue reading

Rush vs. Clinton: Who’s Right?

Former President Bill Clinton has sounded an alarm he has sounded before, warning that the intensity of the rhetoric on conservative radio emboldens fringe radicals to violence. As he did in 1995, when he was in the White House, Clinton lays the Oklahoma City bombing at the feet of big-government critics, a strategy that then managed to halt the momentum of Republicans in their assault on Democratic policies. Also as in 1995, King of the Radio Right Rush Limbaugh has countered that Clinton is using revisionist history to avoid his administration’s own responsibility for Timothy McVeigh’s attack, which wasn’t timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Branch Davidian massacre by accident. Limbaugh’s argument that the conduct of Federal agents in Waco (as well as Ruby Ridge) had a lot more to do with McVeigh’s anger than anything he heard on talk radio is persuasive on the merits.

Nevertheless, Clinton’s general point that talk radio is playing with fire is a legitimate one. Continue reading