March 29, 2010

Why Utilitarianism Fails, Even in Af-Pak

Reading news stories about America’s war in Afghanistan-Pakistan often reminds me of my college ethics class. Specifically, I’m reminded of the whole utilitarianism-deontology debate and the thought experiments different utilitarian thinkers give to support their case—for example:

A magistrate or judge is faced with a very real threat from a large and uncontrollable mob of rioters demanding a culprit for a crime. Unless the criminal is produced, promptly tried, and executed, they will take their own bloody revenge on a much smaller and quite vulnerable section of the community (a kind of frenzied pogrom). The judge knows that the real culprit is unknown and that the authorities do not even have a good clue as to who he may be. But he also knows that there is within easy reach a disreputable, thoroughly disliked, and useless man, who, though innocent, could easily be framed so that the mob would be quite convinced that he was guilty and would be pacified if he were promptly executed (150).

After laying out such hypothetical situations, the utilitarian, in this case Kai Nielsen, hopes that we’ve reached the same conclusion that he has. In the above case, Nielsen hopes we’ve concluded that the judge should execute the innocent man. And, of course, if we agree with him on this point, then it follows that we too are utilitarians, believing that the right course of action is that which results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Those leading the current American effort in Af-Pak contend that they face a situation that’s not all that different than the judge’s. They point out that there are no clear-cut battle lines in Af-Pak, as insurgents dwell among civilians and refuse to wear military uniforms. Consequently, when US forces, using the means of conventional warfare, try to kill insurgents, they often end up killing innocent civilians. (According to a recent report by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation, since 2004 nearly one-third of those killed by US drone strikes have been civilians.) So, like the hypothetical judge, the US military claims that, in order to do the right thing it must take innocent life.

Now there are many problems with utilitarianism. For one thing, it presumes that people know more than they actually do. For instance, while US officials claim [.pdf] that we must stay the course in Af-Pak in order to keep Americans safe, it’s clear that our current actions can (and often do) backfire. Even General McChrystal recognizes [.pdf]:

From a conventional standpoint, the killing of two insurgents in a group of ten leaves eight remaining: 10-2=8. From the insurgent standpoint, those two killed were likely related to many others who will want vengeance. If civilian casualties occurred, that number will be much higher. Therefore, the death of two creates more willing recruits: 10 minus 2 equals 20 (or more) rather than 8. This is part of the reason why eight years of individually successful kinetic actions have resulted in more violence.

Thus it’s not only possible but in fact likely that US bombings in Af-Pak are immoral, not just on deontological, but also on utilitarian grounds.

But more than just this, utilitarianism violates many of our most deeply held moral beliefs. For instance, we believe that some actions are wrong even if they produce good results. In other words, sometimes the ends clearly do not justify the means. To give just one example, Sterling Harwood imagines “a case of secretly killing a healthy man just in for a routine checkup in order to maximize satisfaction by using his various organs in a number of life-saving operations” (183). The ends here are obviously good, but I don’t think any of us would argue that they justify the means.

Similarly, I would argue that, regardless of the consequences, it’s always wrong to kill innocent people. Deep down, I imagine that most Americans agree. Although most of us tell pollsters that we support the military’s effort to kill insurgents, even when “collateral damage” results, I imagine that few of us would feel the same way if we were merely shown the faces of the people who comprise this “collateral damage” or if provided with even minimal biographical data of these people. I imagine that an even smaller number would support these killings if asked to personally carry them out.

Utilitarianism also violates the principle of universality. In other words, few, if any, of us would feel these American attacks were justified if we were the ones living in the targeted Afghan and Pakistani towns and villages. Even if we believed the attacks were accomplishing a greater good, we wouldn’t feel they were justified if our own neighborhoods were the ones being struck. And since we wouldn’t want this done to ourselves, we have no right supporting, with our votes or other means, the US government as it does it to others.

March 21, 2010

So Israel Wants Peace? Really?

In his latest column for the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer again shows himself to be little more than a mouthpiece for the Israeli government. In response to Hilary Clinton’s recent demand that Israel “show in word and in deed its seriousness about peace” (Krauthammer’s paraphrase), he writes:

Israelis have been looking for peace—literally dying for peace—since 1947, when they accepted the U.N. partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. (The Arabs refused and declared war. They lost.)

Israel made peace offers in 1967, in 1978, and in the 1993 Oslo peace accords that Yasser Arafat tore up seven years later to launch a terror war that killed a thousand Israelis. Why, Clinton’s own husband testifies to the remarkable courage and vision of the peace offer made in his presence by Ehud Barak (now Netanyahu’s defense minister) at the 2000 Camp David talks. Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered equally generous terms to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Refused again.

In these long and bloody 63 years, the Palestinians have not once accepted an Israeli offer of permanent peace, or ever countered with anything short of terms that would destroy Israel…

Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its GDP is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called “unprecedented.”

Just replace Krauthammer’s references to “Netanyahu” with first-person pronouns, and you’d have something that could have easily come from the mouth of the prime minister. Poor, besieged Israel, a lamb among wolves. Israel, which has been desperately seeking peace with its Arab neighbors for over sixty years now. Poor, poor Israel.

Of course, no serious historian could read this tripe without rolling his eyes. It’s true that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was accepted by Jewish leaders and rejected by Arab leaders, but we need to remember the context here. When the modern Zionist movement began in 1881, there were just a handful of Jews living in what was to become Mandate Palestine, 13,000 Jews compared to 457,000 Arabs. In 1947, after sixty years of steady Jewish immigration, there were still only about half as many Jews as Arabs, 650,000 to 1.2-1.3 million (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims).

So when the Truman administration pushed through the 1947 Partition Plan (among other means, by threatening to cut off financial aid to Greece and threatening to impose a rubber embargo on Liberia), Zionist leaders were ecstatic. For, although Jews made up half the population of Palestine, the UN Plan granted them approximately 55% of the land. Not surprisingly, Palestinians found the plan completely unacceptable. One-third of them would now be forced to live under Jewish rule.

Since then, Israel has gradually taken control of more and more Palestinian territory. After the 1947 and 1948 wars, Israel controlled 78% of Mandate Palestine. After the 1967 War, it controlled 100%.

Now it’s true that Israel did not start the 1947 and 1948 wars. The first war was started by local Palestinian guerillas, the second by neighboring Arab nations. But after achieving victory, it seemed clear that, contrary to Krauthammer’s claims, Israel was far more interested in expanding its borders than making peace with its enemies. As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim notes, “The files of the Israeli Foreign Ministry…burst at the seams with evidence of Arab peace feelers and Arab readiness to negotiate with Israel from September 1948 on.” Shlaim describes how Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, though undoubtedly desiring peace, “knew that for formal peace agreements Israel would have to pay by yielding territory to its neighbors and by agreeing to the return of a substantial number of Palestinian refugees, and he did not consider this a price worth paying” (The Iron Wall).

As can be evidenced by various internal documents, Ben-Gurion and many other early Israeli leaders intended to ultimately possess all of what they deemed to be Biblical Israel. For instance, Ben-Gurion wrote in a 1938 letter, “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state—we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”

After starting and then quickly defeating its enemies in the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel began building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Its purpose behind these settlements has always been clear, to create “facts on the ground” that would enable it to permanently expand its borders.

Although Krauthammer speaks of Israel’s repeated peace overtures, Israel has never made a peace offer that complies with international law. While international law prohibits nations from acquiring territory through force and from transferring their own populations into occupied territories, at Camp David even Ehud Barak, with his “remarkable courage and vision,” only offered to return 91% of the West Bank and to withdraw from 63% of Israeli settlements. Shlomo Ben-Ami, who served as Israel’s foreign minister at the time, later stated that had he been a Palestinian he too would have rejected the offer. (And I’ve said nothing about Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes; I hope to write about this issue sometime in the near future.)

As far as Netanyahu’s “acceptance of a Palestinian state” goes, the truth is that he has never offered something that could reasonably be considered a “state.” As he stated in his speech at Bar-Ilan University last June, “The territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized, namely without an army, without control of its airspace and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling.” Elsewhere, Netanyahu has made it clear that he has no intention of relinquishing East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and presumably other parts of the West Bank.

I find it hard to believe that Krauthammer is unaware of these facts. Though I generally disagree with him, I’ll be the first to admit that he’s an intelligent, well-informed individual. But for reasons which perhaps only he knows, he has decided against writing honest analysis and has instead decided to parrot the same propaganda that can be heard from the Israeli right. I imagine he realizes that, if most Americans knew the actual historical record, they would be less likely to continue looking the other way as their politicians persist in giving billions of dollars to Israel every year and turning a blind eye to even its most egregious sins.

March 16, 2010

Israel and Apartheid (part 2)

After making the case that apartheid does not exist in Israel proper, Alan Dershowitz writes:

What is true of Israel proper, including Israeli Arab areas, is not true of the occupied territories. Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza several years ago, only to be attacked by Hamas rockets. Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank only because the Palestinians walked away from a generous offer of statehood on 97% of the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem and with a $35 billion compensation package for refugees. Had it accepted that offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, there would be a Palestinian state in the West Bank. There would be no separation barrier. There would be no roads restricted to Israeli citizens (Jews, Arabs and Christians.) And there would be no civilian settlements. I have long opposed civilian settlements in the West Bank, as many, perhaps most Israelis, do. But to call an occupation, which continues because of the refusal of the Palestinians to accept the two-state solution, “Apartheid” is to misuse that word. As those of us who fought in the actual struggle of apartheid well understand, there is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is now taking place on the West Bank.

Nowhere in his article does Dershowitz attempt to show that “there is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is now taking place on the West Bank.” I imagine he realizes that he can’t prove this. As I wrote a couple weeks ago, it’s pretty clear that there are many striking similarities between apartheid South Africa and the modern West Bank and that, like the South African National Party, the State of Israel has imposed what can only be described as an apartheid system.

As evidence that Israel doesn’t practice apartheid, Dershowitz simply claims that Ehud Barak once gave Yasser Arafat a “generous offer of statehood.” Needless to say, this is a helluva non-sequitur, even for someone like Alan Dershowitz. The fact that Israel once offered to return 97% of the West Bank proves that it doesn’t currently practice apartheid? Huh?

Even if Israel once offered to return 100% of the West Bank, even if it agreed to let all of the 1948 refugees return, this wouldn’t change the fact that it is currently depriving Palestinians living in the West Bank of some of their most basic human rights. For instance, Israel prevents [.pdf] Palestinians from accessing the Jordan River and allows them to use just 20% of the Mountain Aquifer, the area’s other main water source; it excludes the Palestinians from more than 60% of the land in the West Bank and, through a network of walls, checkpoints, and roads, has splintered the remaining Palestinian land into an archipelago of sixty-four enclaves; it frequently restricts Palestinian movement between these different enclaves, sometimes shutting down roads for several days at a time. I could go on and on.

So, even if it’s the case that Yasser Arafat should have accepted Ehud Barak’s “generous offer of peace,” the fact remains that Israel is an apartheid state. (And by the way, Barak’s offer, though certainly the most generous one an Israeli prime minister has ever made to the Palestinians, still failed to comply with international law.)

But Dershowitz simply refuses to acknowledge this point and instead spends the majority of his article lambasting the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gaza Strip. These governments, he writes, are true perpetrators of apartheid, and therefore we ought to spend our energy criticizing them. Instead of Israeli Apartheid Week, he writes:

I support a “Middle East Apartheid Education Week” to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first.” In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.


He goes on to claim that Israeli Apartheid Week is “carefully designed to cover up far more serious problems of real apartheid in Arab and Muslim nations.”

Of course, the fact that many Muslim nations commit apartheid doesn’t change the fact that Israel does, too. And even if we accept Dershowitz’s claim that these Muslim nations are greater perpetrators of apartheid, it still doesn’t absolve Israel from its sins in the West Bank.

So why then all the focus on Israel? Do pro-Palestinian activists really intend to cover up the evils of the Saudi, Jordanian, and Pakistani governments? That’s certainly not my intention, and I’ve never met another pro-Palestinian activist who had anything but contempt for these regimes.

Personally speaking, I take such a strong interest in the suffering of the Palestinians because, as an American, I feel somewhat responsible. Every year, the money I pay in taxes helps subsidize the Israeli government and all its evil practices. Since I feel that refusing to pay taxes would be completely counterproductive, I try to help in other ways. I give what I can to pro-Palestinian charities, and I frequently blog about these issues, trying my best to expose the sophistries of people like Alan Dershowitz.

March 8, 2010

Prime Minister Hatoyama Meets the Godfather

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the American-Japanese conflict over Okinawa. To review, the Japanese government wants the US military out of Okinawa. The presence of American troops has never been popular there, as locals have a long history of being victimized by GIs. The most well-known example of this occurred in 1995 when three American soldiers assaulted and gang-raped a twelve-year-old Japanese girl.

As Chalmers Johnson writes, “Other incidents of bodily harm, intimidation and death continue in Okinawa on an almost daily basis, including hit-and-run collisions between American troops and Okinawans on foot or on auto bikes, robberies and assaults, bar brawls and drunken and disorderly conduct.”

The long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continually ignored the wishes of Okinawans and instead acquiesced to Washington’s demands. But last summer, Japanese voters kicked out the LDP and voted in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which had campaigned that it would renegotiate a 2006 deal with the US and move US Marine Futenma Air Base out of Okinawa.

Now this shouldn’t been an issue. The people of Okinawa want us out. The government of Okinawa wants us out. And now the national government wants us out. So we should get out. It’s not like the Japanese want the Marines to vacate, say, Camp Pendleton in San Diego. They just want us out of Okinawa, and, given that it’s their country and all, I think we should oblige them.

But shortly after the DPJ came into power, spokesmen from the Pentagon and State Department made it clear that the US isn’t going anywhere. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates “reiterated his stance on the Futenma base issue, saying the current plan is the only one that can be achieved and it should be implemented as soon as possible under the current agreement.”

And now it looks like Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has backed down. As the New York Times reports, far from making demands, the Japanese government is now merely “proposing” that the Futenma base be “smaller and have a diminished impact on local residents and the environment.” Japanese officials, the Times continues, are currently attempting to “sound out whether the plan might be acceptable to the United States.”

Let me repeat that last sentence. Japanese officials are attempting to “sound out whether the plan [to keep but downsize the Futenma base in Okinawa] might be acceptable to the United States.” It’s clear that this plan isn’t acceptable to the Okinawans, but that doesn’t matter.

Because, as these newly-elected Japanese officials have come to realize, the United States is not an ally. The United States is not an equal in the community of nations. The United States is the Godfather, and you don’t fuck with the Godfather. It took Hatoyama and his boys a few months to get it. I imagine Don Obama made the prime minister an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Or perhaps the Godfather simply “reasoned” with Hatoyama, convincing him that all those Marines are there to protect Japan from North Korea. Of course, Japan is perfectly capable of defending itself from Kim Jong-il’s army. Japan has one of the strongest militaries in the world, and its annual defense budget is nine times larger than North Korea’s.

Anyway, I really had hope that the Okinawans were going to win this one. I suppose Avatar made me unrealistically optimistic. Stupid me, what was I thinking? We’re not the Sec-Ops and Okinawans aren’t the Na’vi. We’re Don Corleone and they’re Jack Woltz, you know, the movie producer who snubbed the Don’s nephew. And you remember what happened to Jack Woltz, don’t you?

March 4, 2010

Israel and Apartheid

As you’ve probably heard, a number of pro-Palestinian groups have dubbed the first week of March Israeli Apartheid Week. By holding numerous events, mostly on college campuses, these groups hope “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”

Predictably, these events have elicited an angry response from many neoconservatives, who have vehemently argued that Israel is not an apartheid state. Most notably, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen has written:

“The Israel of today and the South Africa of yesterday have almost nothing in common. In South Africa, the minority white population harshly ruled the majority black population. Nonwhites were denied civil rights, and in 1958, they were even deprived of citizenship. In contrast, Israeli Arabs, about one-fifth of the country, have the same civil and political rights as do Israeli Jews. Arabs sit in the Knesset and serve in the military, although most are exempt from the draft. Whatever this is—and it looks suspiciously like a liberal democracy—it cannot be apartheid.

“The West Bank, more or less under Israeli military rule, is a different matter. But it is not part of Israel proper, and under every conceivable peace plan—including those proposed by Israeli governments—almost all of it will revert to the Palestinian Authority and become the heartland of a Palestinian state.”

Cohen’s first point—that Israeli Arabs are not subject to apartheid—is undoubtedly correct. Although Israeli Arabs face extraordinary discrimination, discrimination that is tantamount to that faced by African-Americans in the Jim Crow South, I wouldn’t say that they are victims of apartheid.

My problem with Cohen’s article lies in his second point. Ever the Israel-defender, he doesn’t say a word about the situation faced by Arabs in the West Bank but simply asserts that most of the West Bank will eventually become part of a Palestinian state and then goes on to accuse Israel’s critics of being racist and dishonest. Needless to say, claiming that the West Bank will eventually become part of a Palestinian state does not prove Cohen’s main point, which is that “[t]he Israel of today and the South Africa of yesterday have almost nothing in common.” Even if we grant that Palestinians will eventually control most of the West Bank (and I honestly don’t see how this is possible), this doesn’t change the fact that Israel has been occupying the West Bank for forty-three years now and that its current treatment of Palestinians there undoubtedly resembles South Africa’s former treatment of its black citizens.

First of all, Israel accords Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the West Bank different legal rights. Only Jewish settlers can vote. Moreover, while Jewish settlers are subject to the Israeli legal system, Palestinians live under military rule. Consequently, “settlers enjoy liberties and legal guarantees that are denied Palestinian defendants…charged with a similar offense. The authority to arrest an individual, the maximum detention before being brought before a judge, the right to meet with an attorney, the protections available to defendants at the trial, the maximum punishment allowed by law, and the release of prisoners before completion of sentence— all of these differ greatly in the two systems of law, with the Israeli system providing the suspect and defendant with more protections.”

Palestinians face discrimination in numerous other ways. For instance, although Palestinians make up 83% of the West Bank’s population, Israel prevents [.pdf] them from accessing the Jordan River and allows them to use just 20% of the Mountain Aquifer, the area’s other main water source. Additionally, Israel excludes the Palestinians from more than 60% of the land in the West Bank. Through a network of walls, checkpoints, and roads, it has splintered the remaining Palestinian land into an archipelago of sixty-four enclaves. While Israel allows its own citizens to travel between Jewish settlements and Israel proper, it often restricts Palestinian movement between these different enclaves, sometimes shutting down roads for several days at a time. It seems clear that Israel often imposes these travel restrictions as collective punishment, something it never does to its own citizens. Other forms of collective punishment Israel has employed include imposing curfews in Palestinian areas and even demolishing Palestinian homes.

And the discrimination does not end there. Israel is far more likely to approve construction permits for Jews than Palestinians. According to the Israeli government’s own numbers, from 2000 to 2007 the government approved just 91 of 1,624 Palestinian building permit requests. During the same time, Jewish settlers built 18,472 homes and apartments. This inequality has forced many Palestinians to build homes without permits. From 2000 to 2007, Israel issued demolition orders against 4,993 Palestinian homes, eventually demolishing 33% of these homes. During the same period, it issued demolition orders against 2,900 settler homes built without permits but only ended up demolishing 7% of them.

One of the ugliest examples of Jewish-Palestinian disparity can be found in the West Bank city of Hebron. As B’Tselem noted [.pdf] in its 2008 Annual Report, “In 2008, Israel continued to carry out its ‘separation policy’ in the center of Hebron. As part of this policy, Israel imposes a long list of prohibitions and restrictions on Palestinian movement on major thoroughfares, along which settlers are allowed to move freely. Israeli security forces routinely delay Palestinian passersby for repeated checks, in which they harass and humiliate them. Palestinian residents of the city center are also exposed to extensive violence by Israeli settlers, much greater than elsewhere in the West Bank. Therefore, the restraint shown by the authorities on enforcing the law against settlers in this city is especially blatant.”

There are certainly differences between the modern West Bank and South Africa from 1948 to 1994, but, as I’ve briefly described, there are also many similarities, and these similarities are striking. Like the South African National Party, the State of Israel has imposed what can only be described as an apartheid system. Given that the American government, and thus our tax dollars, make this system possible, I think it follows that each of us has an obligation to feel outraged by this injustice and to do our part to bring it to an end.


Related Posts:
A Introduction to Israel’s Blockade of Gaza
A Tale of Two Regimes: Political Repression in Iran and Israel
The Jerusalem Post Slams Amnesty International - Again

March 1, 2010

Terrorist sympathizers in the DOJ? Oh no! Say it ain’t so!

Anymore, hearing the words “traditional values” is all it takes to piss me off. Not because I’m living some wild bohemian lifestyle; it’s just that experience has taught me that people who use such language usually have no values of their own.

Case in point: the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). Led by Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, one of those nutcases who thinks there’s a gay rights agenda lurking behind every corner, theTVC currently has its panties in a bunch because Attorney General Eric Holder has revealed that nine Department of Justice (DOJ) appointees had previously provided legal assistance to Guantanamo detainees and/or spoken out in defense of detainee rights.

One appointee, Neal Katyal, argued before the Supreme Court that Bush’s military commissions violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions. (The Supreme Court decided that he was right.) Another appointee, Jennifer Daskal, worked for Human Rights Watch, where she advocated that defendants in the military commissions system be afforded fair trails. The other seven appointees have not been identified.

Writes the TVC: “Who are the other seven individuals (at a minimum) in DOJ who have defended terrorists? Every one of them should be purged from their posts. No one sympathetic to Islamic terrorism has any legitimate place in the Department of Justice.

“Yet, it is unlikely that Obama will purge the DOJ of these subversive influences. Clearly, he wants them there.”

Now a couple things need to be said here. First of all, it’s simply nonsensical to refer to these individuals as “terrorist detainees.” Since we don’t know who these detainees are, we have no way of knowing if they’re actually terrorists. And it’s been well-established that most of the people taken to Guantanamo Bay were not terrorists. According to Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Colin Powell’s chief of staff, of the 779 individuals taken to Gitmo, only “two dozen or so” were actual terrorists. Indeed the government has implicitly admitted that the vast majority of Gitmo detainees have been innocent and to date has released 585 detainees and approved for the release of another 75. (Most of these men, it should be noted, were let go during the Bush years.)

Secondly, it’s just as nonsensical to claim that these DOJ appointees are “sympathetic to Islamic terrorism.” Does anyone honestly believe that an attorney who defends someone accused of committing Crime X is therefore sympathetic to Crime X? If an attorney defends someone who’s been accused—perhaps wrongfully accused—of committing, say, tax-fraud, does it therefore follow that he or she is sympathetic to tax-fraud?

As an organization that claims to “believe in the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and the writings of our Founding Fathers,” the TVC shouldn’t so be so quick to condemn those who provide counsel to criminal defendants and/or speak out for these defendant’s basic human rights. According to the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, individuals—citizens and non-citizens alike—must be afforded the presumption of innocence; moreover, they are entitled to receive the assistance of counsel and a trial by an impartial jury before the state can deprive them of their life, liberty, or property.

Therefore, it’s beyond hypocrisy for the TVC to castigate people who, in full accordance with the law, have, at most, provided legal counsel to people accused of committing certain crimes. Perhaps Rev. Sheldon and his boys would prefer that we just blindly trust the government. Perhaps they believe that, whenever the government charges someone with a crime, we have the duty to just roll over and assume that the government is right. Remarkable faith in Big Brother from a group of self-described constitutional conservatives. For their sake, I just hope that they’re never wrongly accused of a crime.

Sadly—but not surprisingly—the Family Research Council (FRC) shares the TVC’s beliefs in this matter. In a recent article (entitled “DOJ: Sleeping with the Enemy?”), the FRC states that the country depends upon DOJ officials “to represent the United States’ best interests—a role complicated by [these appointees'] past ties. What makes this situation unique is that it involves a conflict of interest with national security, not, say, the financial district. Most of us would agree that it seems counterproductive to send our soldiers to fight the enemies while our own Justice attorneys defend them.”

Though slightly more coherent than the TVC’s argument, the FRC’s logic also fails. As Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich has pointed out [.pdf], it is common for attorneys who enter the government “to work in issue areas that overlap with their prior practice.” For example, sometimes attorneys who formerly defended individuals accused of white-collar crimes go on to prosecute such cases, and so on.

According to the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, a conflict of interest arises when an attorney works on a case involving a previous client, not when an attorney works on a case involving an issue he or she has formerly worked on. And in accordance with these rules, DOJ attorneys cannot work on cases involving previous clients.

What grounds are there for believing that an attorney who once defended Person X cannot be trusted to prosecute Person Y, just because both Person X and Person Y were accused of committing similar crimes? Let’s say that an attorney once defended Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen whom US officials rendered to Syria in 2002. (Though Arar was brutally tortured, he was later released and found by the Canadian government to be completely innocent.) Would it therefore follow that that attorney could not be trusted to prosecute, say, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Osama bin Laden? Because someone defended one terror suspect (in this case, one who was completely innocent), does it follow that he or she cannot be trusted to prosecute another terror suspect? Does this make any sense?

Does any of this possibly make any sense?