12 March 2011


CRIME - INDIVIDUAL. Neuroscience is producing astonishing findings on a daily basis. Several new studies report that there is compelling evidence, based on brain scans, that "the brains of certain criminals are different from those of the rest of the population." The article by Clara Moskowitz details how CT scans have revealed the following -- (a) reductions in the volume of the frontal lobe among those with antisocial personality disorder; (b) deformations in the amygdala among psychopaths; and (c) a distinct lack of fear conditioning among children who later become criminals."

Yet the discovery of detectable brain and behavioral differences presents an ethical quandary. To what extent (if any) is it permissible to perform invasive brain surgery to correct physical deformities? Who decides? I highly recommend reading the entire article for a discussion of these and other issues.

CRIME - GANG. Not the kind of gang you may be imagining. In My Life As a Juvenile Delinquent, Dick Cavett recounts an incident from his youth in 1950s Nebraska, in which he and three friends ended up arrested for a prank that went too far. Cavett's wit and narrative style take the reader to a place and time of greater innocence, and perhaps greater wisdom. I laughed out loud when I came to his description of the end of a phone call to a police officer -- "I hung up, as Woody Allen has said, sweating audibly."

CRIME - GOVERNMENTAL. Former Nuremburg Trials prosecutor Ben Ferencz, whose integrity is unassailable, lays out a convincing case for holding to account the decisions of any government (including our own) to wage war, in My Government Today Prepared to Do Something for Which We Hanged Germans. Ferencz lays out a riveting description of several incidents, and their ethical implications, which took place during the trials. He then extrapolates to the lessons of that time --

"I learned that, if you want to have a peaceful society, any society, whether it is in Boca or in the United States or in the world, you need three components. You need laws, to define what's permissible and what's not permissible. You need courts, in order to determine whether the laws have been violated and to serve as a forum for settlements. And you need a system of effective enforcement.

"To the extent that you have all three of those components, you have relative tranquility. To the extent that they're absent, you have disorder .... You don't have to be a criminologist to realize that if you want to deter a crime, you must persuade potential criminals that if they commit crimes, they will be hauled into court and held accountable. It is the policy of the United States to do just the opposite as far as the crime of aggression [between nations] is concerned.

"Our government has gone to great pains to be sure that no American will be tried by any international criminal court for the supreme crime of war-making. In condemning others for that crime [at Nuremburg], we also proclaimed that the law must apply equally to everyone. It is carved on the entrance to our Supreme Court -- "Equal Justice Under Law". Why does the U.S. foul its own nest by failing to uphold the principles of Nuremburg which inspired the world?"

" .... Conservatives like ex-Embassador John Bolton and the late Senator Jesse Helms have said explicitly, 'We're against the International Criminal Court. Who do they think they are to try us Americans? We are noble. We don't need or want foreign interference.' They don't believe there is such a thing as international law and they don't want the rule of law to restrict their use of force to attain their particular goals. Politically, the U.S. is a centrist country. To get two-thirds to affirm a treaty is very difficult. I consider myself an American patriot. I came to America as an infant child, escaping from persecution and poverty. I am eternally grateful to the United States. Tom Paine, who is buried near my home in New Rochelle, made it clear that the duty of a patriot is not to say 'My country right or wrong', but 'I will support my country when it's right, but when it's wrong I will try to make it right'.

Hear hear. This country became a world power a century ago, and a superpower not long after. With that power comes responsibility, including the responsibility to recognize that humanity has evolved from family law, to tribal law, to clan law, to city-state law, to national law, and now to international law. Of Ferencz's components for civil tranquility, we already have access to a legislative world forum, the United Nations, where members can meet to air their grievances and seek justice. We also have access to the International Criminal Court. What we lack is a global law enforcement agency to hold rogue nations (like Libya), or power-drunk nations (like the U.S.) accountable. Until we begin to behave as a mature member of the world community, rather than behaving as a self-proclaimed dictator, "Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice wild vengeance [terrorism] is the alternative."

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