America’s Moral Nuances
Shipped off to
In light of this, he expected a prompt release. None came.
When the prospect of indefinite
detention, without any recourse to legal defense, began to seep into Alikhil’s mind, he fell into despair. He attempted suicide
by hanging three times at
“This individual has been
determined to pose no threat to the United States Military or its interests in
Alikhil is one of many detainees that
were, or still are, held in
Let’s take a look first at the Bush administration’s justification for detaining suspected terrorists.
The administration points out that
“the law of war allows the United States — and any other country engaged in
combat — to hold enemy combatants without charges or access to counsel for the
duration of hostilities. Detention is not an act of punishment but of security
and military necessity. It serves the purpose of preventing combatants from
continuing to take up arms against the
Morally speaking, this makes sense
because security, as an integral part of the common good, would require the
detention of these combatants. This type of detention marks a key difference
between the laws of war and human rights laws in reference to detention. In the
context of armed conflicts covered under international humanitarian law, this
principle constitutes an exception to human rights laws. Consequently, the Bush
administration justifies the use of detention camps like
However, all of this raises a
serious question: If the purpose of detention serves to prevent combatants from
taking up arms against the
The simple answer is that many
detainees were captured in places where there was, at least at the time of
their arrest, no armed conflict with the
From a moral viewpoint, it’s
extremely important to distinguish between detainees captured by the
Does this mean that those who may
have aided enemy combatants stand above the moral law of retributive justice? Absolutely not. It just means they should be classified as
“enemies” of the
These human rights laws uphold the fundamental rights of any person accused of wrongdoing, for instance:
— The right to challenge the legality of detention.
— The right to due process rights of independence and impartiality.
— The right to be informed of the reasons for arrest.
—The right to be informed about the evidence underlying these reasons.
— The right to legal counsel and trial within a reasonable time or to be released.
Some may view the moral nuance between enemies and enemy combatants as a shallow consideration in times of war. It isn’t.
True democracy will always look to the moral law for mature and just government. Great democracies don’t create the objective moral principles of conduct but recognize them in natural law from which human rights emanate. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II emphasized this point:
“Fundamentally, democracy is a ‘system’ and as such is a means and not an end. Its moral value is not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of human behavior, must be subject. In other words, its morality depends on the morality of the ends that it pursues and of the means that it employs. … The value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes.”
Legionary Father Andrew McNair
is a theology professor at
- August 13-19, 2006