Rougeau [Notre Dame]: The Banality of Evil

Vincent Rougeau [Notre Dame Law School]:

"The 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the recent controversies surrounding the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales made me think once again of Hannah Arendt's powerful words.  The Associated Press reported yesterday that Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have been subjected to interrogation practices designed to "break [their] reliance on God."  In particular, suggestively dressed female interrogators told Muslim male prisoners that they were menstruating, reached into their panties and pretended to smear menstrual blood on the men's faces.  Muslim men are forbidden from touching a woman during her period.  Doing so make them unclean and unfit to address God.  After the "blood" was smeared on their faces, the prisoners were informed that the water had been turned off in their cells.

I suppose our government would not consider this torture, certainly not for the unter-menschen who are housed in Guantanamo Bay, and who might possibly be harboring plans to harm Americans.  How do we define human dignity and respect for human life?  Is there a sliding scale based on what we think someone might be planning to do?  Do Americans get to decide how human beings get to be treated based on our perceptions of potential threats to American lives and interests?  Are people entitled to higher levels of respect for their dignity simply because they are American or, more generally, because they look "Western"?

Our government has adopted an interesting philosophical perspective on the dignity of the human person.  The end justifies the means." [January 28, 2005: Mirror of Justice has the post.]

 

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