Friday, November 21, 2008

A Crisis of Conscience

“I intend to give my brother burial. I'll be glad to die in the attempt, -- if it's a crime, then it's a crime that God commands.” . . . “God and the government ordain just laws; the citizen who rules his life by them is worthy of acclaim. But he that presumes to set the law at naught is like a stateless person, outlawed, beyond the pale.” ~Antigone

In Professional Responsibility this week, we discussed ethical issues surrounding Lieutenant Colonel Vandeveld’s resignation as prosecutor from the military commissions in Guantanamo. Among the many issues, one in particular stood out to me, the tension that LTC Vandeveld expressed over trying to reconcile his faith with his professional obligations. In his words, “I am a resolute Catholic and take as an article of faith that justice is defined as reparative and restorative, and that Christ's most radical pronouncement - command, if you will - is to love one's enemies.”

We don’t know the extent of LTC Vandeveld’s crisis of conscience, but I will say that I do not believe loving one’s enemies and ensuring justice is served are mutually exclusive. Christ also said to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.” LTC Vandeveld’s declaration is somewhat parallel to Antigone’s struggle in Sophocles’s play, and worth considering in that context. To the extent governing authorities in our lives conflict, which should ultimately prevail? As future attorneys, to what extent should our moral compass govern our zealous representation of a client?

Penn State Visiting Assistant Professor, Gregory McNeal has also posted on LTC Vandeveld’s resignation on his blog, here.


David Hutchinson said...

I have read LTC's declaration, and it seems less like he jumped and more like he was pushed for a perceived unprosecutorial sympathy with the defense.

Whatever the case, we can say with confidence that he does not have at stake what Antigone did (one of the edifying joys of being a conscientious objector to the policies of the United States is that the price is not dear; indeed, you may end up in the back, and on the cover of Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone).

As to the hazard of combating terrorism by asking WWJD, there are a few things to say. It is possible, of course, as Kelly has, to find a statement from Jesus that allows room for a more terrestrial response to terrorism than "love your neighbor". Indeed, the statement selected allows room by abandoning the field of battle as in the realm of Caesar.

I think in this case, however, the LTC should be asked whether his religion is offended by discovery rules or by the sanction that awaits someone found guilty by the military commissions. Insofar as his objections seem to be America would not be interested in teaching the convicted a trade to practice when released (i.e. that we are uninterested in rehabilitiating jihadists)and the age of the accused in his specific case, I do not see the discovery rules as central to his dissent (as he seems to indicate).

I credit his misgivings as sincerely held; to that extent resigning is what he should have done. Resignation has become a lost art; the rage now is to remain inside as a 5th column, and to make your objections explicit when too late to matter, but just late enough to not cost their author anything but being lionized by those out of power (apparently the LTC was setting this course until removed).

But here is my objection to the WWJD question in re: fighting terrorism: if someone slaps you, you are to turn the other cheek. And then he slaps that one and then kicks you and then kills and so on. To keep finding new cheeks to turn is ignoble, futile, and fatal. And to indulge that fetish in the face of such provocation is an expensive indulgence indeed, and one no man has a right to impose upon his fellow citizens. Certainly someone so disposed has no business reporting for duty on the ramparts of civilization. That is not to impose a particular religious test for military prosecutors, but a tempermental one; one can find what one seeks in the holy books.

As a fallback option, perhaps the LTC can retain his fetish and his office, and be persuaded to look upon the detainees as pharisees.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hutchinson's obvious antipathy toward Christianity has lead him to misconstrue a part of the LTC's declaration, where the officer advocates restorative justice for an admittedly juvenile offender, not some hard-bitten jihadist. As it turns out, the Military Judge in the Jawad case found in motions argued after the LTC left, that Jawad had been tortured into "confessing" to the alleged offenses, and other evidence recently discovered suggests strongly that other domestic insurgents in Afghanistan actually conducted the attack for which Jawad has now served six years, without trial. These events cannot comport with any rationale definition of that elusive concept, justice, Christian fetishism or not. BTW, the LTC served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, evidently with distinction, which is more than one can say for Mr. Hutchinson. But then again, forfeiting one's military career seems to Mr. Hutchinson to be a fair trade for appearing in Vanity Fair....

David Hutchinson said...

Thanks for accusing me of harboring an "obvious antipathy toward Christianity." Here's hoping you don't have a vote on my passage into the Kingdom.

Neither Jawad's age nor the facts of his case (including the conclusion therefrom that he is not a hard-bitten jihadist) can limit the principle on which the LTC bases his objection in his resignation. That principle is based on Christ's teaching to love your enemy and what the LTC extrapolates from that, namely that we should be interested in restorative justice, and is not rationed by age or culpability. Fine. It is worth noting that the Church itself relegated such interpretations to theory when it found itself in charge of Rome.

Yes, I see where the LTC served in Afghanistan and Iraq. I am proud to have him as a fellow citizen. I have a brother in one of those theatres now, and honor military service. And yes, it is more, or at least different, than one can say of me (do I know you? are you going through records you shouldn't have access to?). But you seem a person unlikely to support a standard where a person in uniform cannot be criticized- more exactly, evaluated- by those outside of uniform (see e.g. this nation's civilian oversight scheme).

If someone in the military has a crisis of conscience and feels they must resign, and then goes on to give an interview with Vanity Fair, ok. I suppose that is a fair trade, with or without the interview. Princples observed at a cost are those sincerely held, and are alone worth the cost of their observance. I suppose on that account alone I would like and admire the LTC on a personal level.

Anonymous said...

No, I don't know you, David, but I do know I read the LTC's statement more carefully than you seemed to have done. I also saw that the judge in the case the LTC resigned over dismissed the defendant's "confessions" on the basis that they had been obtained by torture. This ruling was issued after the LTC resigned, so it's a measure of vindication, I guess. Anyway, I, too, applaud your brother. He has more courage than you ever will, because for the past seven years (I'm guessing) you've actively avoided serving in the military. So, yes, I think a combat-avoider like you seem to be lacks credibility when he purports to judge the actions of one who has served. I'd like to see you report for duty on the ramparts of civilization, but civilization would be vanquished before that would ever occur.