Some people think I am wacky about loyalty, ethics, and principles. I have been told I have a “low threshold for ambiguity” regarding some rules and standards. This is true. At some point, I think we cross certain ethical lines and pretending like it is all ambiguous and complex is just blowing smoke. SOMETIMES it is just over the line — and it is black and white. (watching Weeds lately — Nancy just hit her ethical standard — human trafficking).
So today the Bush 9/11 memos came out. These 9 memos (most famous is the torture memo, but there are memos in there that allow the suspension of all kinds of constitutional rights — pretty much all of them) authorizing the military use of force ON UNITED STATES SOIL and revocation of our 4th and 1st amendment rights — all in violation of the Constitution we hold dear.
This led me to a long lecture today about lawyers’ ethical obligations. When the Bush administration asked the White House Counsel to tell them if they could do all of this stuff (warrant-less wiretaps, suspend habeaus, and torture) did the lawyers (Yoo, Gonzalez) have an ethical/professional/moral obligation to say, “NO! This is a total end-run around separation of powers.” I argued today in class that they did. Just like the Japanese internment camps, we are beginning to recognize these moves for what they were — horrendous violations of constitutional authority. Even the Bush administration itself admitted this a few days before Obama took the oath and repudiated the Yoo/gonzalez legal reasoning. But I think there was a preexisting moral and professional ethic that they violated when they wrote these memos advocating lawless activity in violation of federal and international law.
But how does this relate to academic ethics?
I am an academic. What are the things that would make me complicit if I stood by and watched? What is my obligation to my profession? What if my university were engaging in employment discrimination? research in violation of human subjects protection? What if the administration was telling departments who to hire and fire based on political activity or position? What if my university banned students from political protest? What are our ethical standards as academics? What are the things that could happen that I have an obligation to speak out about? I’m serious . . . what are the activities that could go on at a university that (if they were ignored) would make me the John Yoo of academics? I’m looking for input.