When does the perception of legality trump morality and ethics?

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | FEBRUARY 8, 2013

The dire consequences of having a lawyer as President of a country are well-known by now. According to many lawyers, legality, or the perception of legality trumps morality and ethics. Sometimes even in the absence of legality, immoral and unethical acts are committed and justified with little or no opposition from those who, in other cases, sustain the power of the laws when they benefit their baseless explanations.

The notion that a person or a person on behalf of a country or a group of people can award himself the power to murder others who he thinks are a threat, has no legal, moral or ethical standing. Lawyers, however will tell you the opposite. They will tell you that killing someone whose guilt is yet to be proven can be legal in some cases. They use criteria that is supposedly contained in international, constitutional and national security laws used as justification to execute someone without proving guilt or intention to commit a crime, and in doing so, the right to have due process and the benefit of being tried by a jury of peers is illegally denied.

The latest example of what I call the ‘idiocy of legalities’ is the perception expressed by Christopher Swift, Assistant Professor of National Security Studies at the University of Georgetown. During an interview where he was questioned about the legality, morality and ethics used to support the murder of Americans and thousands of innocents with drones, Swift poses that such action must be analyzed through three different microscopes. First, the legal aspect, where he stands along the murderous policies of the United States government.

In the case of Anwar al-Awlaki — an American citizen assassinated in Yemen by a drone attack — “it met international law,” says Swift, because the man was in a country which authorized the U.S. to use drones in the fight against Al-Qaeda. As we all know by now, al-Awlaki was a U.S. asset in the region. He was an agent of the U.S. government who dined at the Pentagon just days after the 9/11 attacks. He was a member of al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization created by the U.S. government back in the 1970s.

“It also meets constitutional legality,” adds Swift. He says that a U.S. president can order the death of a fellow citizen “even if he is in a foreign country that is at war.” Mr. Swift bases his assumption on the debunked claim that al-Awlaki was plotting to attack United States or an American ally. That claim comes from the same U.S. government who the cleric used to work for, in which case the people in need to be tried and or assassinated would be the members of government who sponsored, kept secret or aided al-Awlaki to supposedly carry out such attacks. In fact, there is a legal mechanism to do that very same thing when people are accused of Treason, which is what a group of hand-picked, high-level government official engage into.

Swift’s position on this issue shows three things. First, he is, at least publicly, a gullible loser who trusts his government. Second, he would kill anyone before awarding him the proper due process, just because there is a law that says so. Third, the perception of legality and constitutionality, as they were understood in the framework of the U.S. Constitution, has been changed by so-called legal experts, because while the document guarantees due process to anyone accused of a crime, those who read, study and interpret the law do not believe such right should be respected in some cases. To sum up, nowhere on the U.S. Constitution the government is allowed to capture, hold indefinitely or murder citizens without a trial, and any law created by politicians that says the contrary is simply unconstitutional. But lawyers make up laws and interpretations of the laws so that it is perceived that such actions are legal and constitutional.

“The Supreme Court upheld that it is legitimate to kill a U.S. citizen without violating the Fifth Amendment as long as it involves an imminent threat,” asserts Swift. The fact that the Supreme Court upholds the prerogative that the government gave itself to kill citizens at home or abroad does not have any legal, moral or ethical standing. Murder is always a crime and the idea that some questionable, bogus threat justifies murdering someone are really threatening to the legal pillars that sustain the United States as a Republic. Just because something is perceived or interpreted as legal, which is not the case here, does not make it constitutional, moral or ethical.

Mr. Swift then analyzed the legality of enhanced interrogations, better known as torture. In the case of the crimes committed by the previous administration, Swift does find the standing to call it illegal. “The authorization of the use of torture during the mandates of George W. Bush is completely illegal,” said Swift. It is important to remember that many of the torture sessions carried out by the United States government, which have been proven not to be useful tools to obtain relevant intelligence, ended up in the death of those who were tortured. In this sense, Swift sees murders committed by people flying high-tech toys as legal, while condemning murder by methods such as water boarding. Double standard?

When questioned about whether the Obama administration should change its strategy in its supposed attempt to fight terrorism, Swift quickly pointed out what according to him is the relevant aspect of the discussion. “The debate should not focus on the legality of drone attacks, but on its long-term effectiveness. How effective will the fight against terrorism be when done with a remote control? Not effective at all. The military success of the Army is not contributing to political stability that is what the U.S. intends to achieve in Yemen and Afghanistan.”

Clearly, Mr. Swift and the U.S. government have a lot in common. For example, they believe that the universal right to life does not exist when a person has brown skin, wears a turban and lives in a country thousands of miles away from the U.S., where he expresses hatred towards American politics. Also, legality and constitutionality are not what the founding documents of the United States say they are, but whatever lawyers say it is; no matter how badly those interpretations of what is legal or constitutional oppose the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Last but not least, legality trumps morality and ethics. One could even risk a guess and say that for people like Barack Obama, a constitutional lawyer himself, and Christopher Swift, the trait of humanity is simply meaningless if there is a legal backdoor that can be crossed to destroy it.

The Real Agenda encourages the sharing of its original content ONLY through the tools provided at the bottom of every article. Please DON’T copy articles from The Real Agenda and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Mad: Engineer Humans to Combat Climate Change?

by Ross Andersen
The Atlantic
March 13, 2012

The threat of global climate change has prompted us to redesign many of our technologies to be more energy-efficient. From lightweight hybrid cars to long-lasting LED’s, engineers have made well-known products smaller and less wasteful. But tinkering with our tools will only get us so far, because however smart our technologies become, the human body has its own ecological footprint, and there are more of them than ever before. So, some scholars are asking, what if we could engineer human beings to be more energy efficient? A new paper to be published in Ethics, Policy & Environment proposes a series of biomedical modifications that could help humans, themselves, consume less.
Some of the proposed modifications are simple and noninvasive. For instance, many people wish to give up meat for ecological reasons, but lack the willpower to do so on their own. The paper suggests that such individuals could take a pill that would trigger mild nausea upon the ingestion of meat, which would then lead to a lasting aversion to meat-eating. Other techniques are bound to be more controversial. For instance, the paper suggests that parents could make use of genetic engineering or hormone therapy in order to birth smaller, less resource-intensive children.
The lead author of the paper, S. Matthew Liao, is a professor of philosophy and bioethics at New York University. Liao is keen to point out that the paper is not meant to advocate for any particular human modifications, or even human engineering generally; rather, it is only meant to introduce human engineering as one possible, partial solution to climate change. He also emphasized the voluntary nature of the proposed modifications. Neither Liao or his co-authors,  Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache of Oxford, approve of any coercive human engineering; they favor modifications borne of individual choices, not technocratic mandates. What follows is my conversation with Liao about why he thinks human engineering could be the most ethical and effective solution to global climate change.
Judging from your paper, you seem skeptical about current efforts to mitigate climate change, including market based solutions like carbon pricing or even more radical solutions like geoengineering. Why is that?

Liao: It’s not that I don’t think that some of those solutions could succeed under the right conditions; it’s more that I think that they might turn out to be inadequate, or in some cases too risky. Take market solutions—so far it seems like it’s pretty difficult to orchestrate workable international agreements to affect international emissions trading. The Kyoto Protocol, for instance, has not produced demonstrable reductions in global emissions, and in any event demand for petrol and for electricity seems to be pretty inelastic. And so it’s questionable whether carbon taxation alone can deliver the kind of reduction that we need to really take on climate change.
With respect to geoengineering, the worry is that it’s just too risky—many of the technologies involved have never been attempted on such a large scale, and so you have to worry that by implementing these techniques we could endanger ourselves or future generations. For example it’s been suggested that we could alter the reflectivity of the atmosphere using sulfate aerosol so as to turn away a portion of the sun’s heat, but it could be that doing so would destroy the ozone layer, which would obviously be problematic. Others have argued that we ought to fertilize the ocean with iron, because doing so might encourage a massive bloom of carbon-sucking plankton. But doing so could potentially render the ocean inhospitable to fish, which would obviously also be quite problematic.
One human engineering strategy you mention is a kind of pharmacologically induced meat intolerance. You suggest that humans could be given meat alongside a medication that triggers extreme nausea, which would then cause a long-lasting aversion to meat eating. Why is it that you expect this could have such a dramatic impact on climate change?

Liao: There is a widely cited U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization report that estimates that 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and CO2 equivalents come from livestock farming, which is actually a much higher share than from transportation. More recently it’s been suggested that livestock farming accounts for as much as 51% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And then there are estimates that as much as 9% of human emissions occur as a result of deforestation for the expansion of pastures for livestock. And that doesn’t even to take into account the emissions that arise from manure, or from the livestock directly. Since a large portion of these cows and other grazing animals are raised for consumption, it seems obvious that reducing the consumption of these meats could have considerable environmental benefits.
Even a minor 21% to 24% reduction in the consumption of these kinds of meats could result in the same reduction in emissions as the total localization of food production, which would mean reducing “food miles” to zero. And, I think it’s important to note that it wouldn’t necessarily need to be a pill. We have also toyed around with the idea of a patch that might stimulate the immune system to reject common bovine proteins, which could lead to a similar kind of lasting aversion to meat products.
Your paper also discusses the use of human engineering to make humans smaller. Why would this be a powerful technique in the fight against climate change?

Liao: Well one of the things that we noticed is that human ecological footprints are partly correlated with size. Each kilogram of body mass requires a certain amount of food and nutrients and so, other things being equal, the larger person is the more food and energy they are going to soak up over the course of a lifetime. There are also other, less obvious ways in which larger people consume more energy than smaller people—for example a car uses more fuel per mile to carry a heavier person, more fabric is needed to clothe larger people, and heavier people wear out shoes, carpets and furniture at a quicker rate than lighter people, and so on.
And so size reduction could be one way to reduce a person’s ecological footprint. For instance if you reduce the average U.S. height by just 15cm, you could reduce body mass by 21% for men and 25% for women, with a corresponding reduction in metabolic rates by some 15% to 18%, because less tissue means lower energy and nutrient needs.

U.S. Universities and Big Pharma Conduct Illegal Human Experiments in Africa

People’s Constitution
November 9, 2011

A new policy brief faults prominent institutions and drug companies like Pfizer, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, and Population Council, for their involvement in unethical and illegal human experimentation in Africa.

The report is titled “Non-Consensual Research in Africa: The Outsourcing of Tuskegee” in reference to the illegal human experiment conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama, between 1932 and 1972 by the US Public Health Service. In that experiment, some 600 impoverished African-American men were observed in a study on the progression of untreated syphilis. Some of the men were intentionally infected with the disease and all of them were denied the cure. Regrettably, the report notes, no one was held accountable for this crime against humanity.

The new report details human experiments led by US researchers and drug companies on Africans who are typically undereducated, poor, and lack full understanding of their rights. The human subjects often are led to believe that they are receiving medical treatment from governmental health services or health ministries.

These practices hearken back to the appalling experiments carried out by US researchers in Guatemala in the 1940s where hundreds of Guatemalans were deliberately infected with sexually transmitted diseases without information or consent. President Obama formally apologized to Guatemala for these experiments last year.

Human experimentation in the United States is regulated by the Office of Research Integrity and various Ethical Research Institutional Boards. Many African countries lack these institutions. Even when they exist, they lack independence and are controlled by corrupt government officials.

In one experiment on HIV sponsored by Gilead Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and operated by Family Health International, Cameroonian subjects were given details about the experiment in English even though many spoke only French and were illiterate. Five women were allegedly infected with HIV in the experiment but were not given antiretroviral drugs.

In another experiment in Nigeria led by Pfizer physicians, researchers injected children with an antibiotic called Trovan during a meningitis outbreak without providing their families with informed consent forms that fully disclose the side effects and purpose of the experiment. Eleven children died and many were left paralyzed.

In South Africa and Namibia, mothers with HIV/AIDS are routinely sterilized without their informed consent. Countries that perform these procedures are known to receive funding in the form of grants and incentives from USAID and other aid organizations.

The report explains that US researchers and drug companies violate the laws and protocols of the Declaration at Helsinki (1964) and the Belmont Report which provide ethical guidelines on human experimentation.

Moreover, the results of unethical and fraudulent experiments are laundered in the United States and Europe through the peer-review system. Many of the “peers” who review these experiments are themselves involved in the same unethical conduct. Others are concerned about the possibility of professional alienation if they speak out.

The authors make several demands so that these practices are ended. They include holding congressional hearings so that the matter is brought to the public’s attention and enacting new legislation to ensure that drugs are not approved by the FDA unless the research on which they are based comply with ethical research principles.