Michael: War ZealotsThe term ‘war criminal’ is unfortunately chosen. Criminals usually act out of venal motives or naked self-interest. As such, it is easy to condemn them. War criminals act out of what most people consider to be admirable motives - patriotism, nationalism, and loyalty. People who commit attrocities in the midst of conflict would be better termed ‘war zealots’.
When one decides that one’s goals and ideals are the highest possible good, any action seems justifiable. History has shown that when people decide that right is irrevocably on their side, the possibility of torture, genocide, and crimes against humanity increases. Those who ordered the Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the numerous other genocides and war crimes of this and past centuries, would all offer justifications that their fellow patriots and co-religionists would not only approve, but applaud.
We in the United States now face the test of judging those who may have crossed the line while pursing goals that most of us support and applaud. Human Rights Watch is calling for an independent investigation of the culpability of our senior leadership in the torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other detention facilities. As Special Counsel Reed Brody points out, when he deals with foreign governments about rectifying and investigating human rights abuses, the most common response he now gets is, "What about Guantanamo?" When the leader in world affairs begins to routinely ignore ethical standards, how surprising is it when the world follows?
Our senior civilian military and civilian leadership who planned and approved the torture and ‘mistreatment’ of detainees in military facilities around the world, and the rendition of prisoners to nations who openly engage in torture, must be investigated independently. If our leadership is truly innocent, they have nothing to fear from an independent investigation; in fact, they should welcome it as a chance for complete exoneration.
International law we created, and past precedents for independent investigation of possible criminal activity by our political leadership, recognizes that ‘war zealots’ must be judged by the international community or independent investigators, not partisans or underlings of the accused. It does not matter whether we approve the ideals and aims which inspired the unlawful activity, demanding possible ‘war zealotory’ be investigated objectively and independently is a hard choice that morality demands of a people of conscience.