John Dudley Hutson, a former U.S. Navy officer and judge advocate general of the Navy, joined author and former Marine Phil Klay as well as former Army officer Ian Fishback Wednesday evening on a panel in the Ford School of Public Policy. The panel, part of Ford’s Policy Talk series, aimed to confront ambiguities created by the intersection of national security and human rights. The discussion was moderated by Hardy Vieux, the legal director at Human Rights First and the Ford School Towsley Foundation policymaker in residence.

Vieux directed his first question at Hutson, asking if the perception of human rights and national security as incompatible spheres still exists today. Hutson argued the two do not conflict, and instead, human rights form the basis for national security — especially in regard to the war on terror.

“In this war, an asymmetric war, the strategy is to pit your strength against the enemy’s weakness,” Hutson said. “And that should work very well for us, because our great strength as a nation isn’t our military might — though mighty it is — it isn’t the essential island nature of our landmass — although it gives us a strategic advantage — it isn’t our economy — though strong it may be. Our great strength as a nation is who we are and who we have been for many, many years in terms of how we treat each other and how we treat other people.”

Following this testimony, Vieux quoted a passage from Klay’s piece “What We're Fighting For,” published February in The New York Times. Klay responded he was inspired to write the piece following an incident in Afghanistan in 2009, during which Navy Seals conducted a raid of a Taliban compound. Subsequently, the Seals found three people hiding under a truck, one of whom did not put his hands up after ordered. It was only after all three of their deaths that the Seals found the resistant person to be a 15-year-old boy who had a muscular disease that did not allow him to move his arms. Klay stressed this incident was more indicative of a misconception of what constitutes “military virtue” in society today.

“In popular media, we focus on heroes defined by kill counts and lethality,” Klay said. “We read books about America's deadliest soldier, or watch movies about the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. These accounts offer a simple and clear narrative in which a tough, good guy kills innumerable bad guys and saves the day, hopefully not getting too worried about the horrible cost along the way. Except a decade and a half into two wars, we’ve had to relearn the old lesson from Vietnam, that you can’t kill your way out of this conflict. If all you needed to win wars was a callous attitude towards human life, the Shah Bashar Assad would be ruling over a peaceful Syria right now.”

Questions directed toward Fishback dealt with his involvement in interrogation techniques. He asserted these tactics, like waterboarding, are not only morally repugnant, but also ineffective, because they undermine the ideas of a liberal democracy. Fishback argued rules about interrogation techniques create moral hazards that draw upon instinctual human tendencies.

“The problem is, I think, when we look at what intuitively works, at a visceral level, people have a hard time understanding that you can’t beat someone into submission.”

The panel concluded with audience questions, most of which dealt with how the conversation could be applied to civilian life. Fishback emphasized a lack of transparency underlying race relations in law enforcement. He argued issues of police brutality originated because abuses of human rights often occur in combat zones, and those members of the military proceed to join civilian law enforcement when they retire. Law School student Salam Sheikh-Khalil found this surprising.

“It wasn’t something that I thought about before,” she said.  

LSA freshman Mackenzie Cosand appreciated the unique military perspective the panel presented.

“It was interesting to see the perspective from people who had been in the military, because when you hear people talking about human rights, it’s not always like people who have been part of the service of the U.S.,” she said.

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