How Far to Capital Punishment?

In late February in Chardon, Ohio, a teenage student of Lake Academy Alternative School, opened fire in the Chardon High School cafeteria, killing 1 and wounding 4. The teen gunman was chased out of the building by the assistant football coach, where he was later identified and arrested. In late December, the gunman updated his Facebook status with a dark poem, which ended with “Die, all of you.” School and town officials are shocked at the tragedy

What should happen to him? What if that student had been your little brother or sister? What if the shooter had been your little brother or sister? Tragedies such as this bring out the candlelit vigils and moral outrage of society, particularly when the victims or perpetrators are acquaintances. How could this teen monster be allowed in our school? How did he get a gun? How did no one see this coming? People grab their torch and pitchforks and seek retribution, while others link arms and pray for the shooter’s mental health, each a unique perspective on justice.

On the mercy scale, where do you fall? Do you push for the death penalty, indefinite imprisonment, mental rehabilitation, counseling, what? When you break down the situation, you have one human killing other humans. Consider an escaped convict taken a mother and her children hostage, killing all of them in attempts to resist police. What’s the difference between these two tragedies? The convict is clearly more likely to evoke a call to far more brutal punishment, but what element evokes the call to arms? How many people have to be killed, how young does the shooter have to be, how brutal must the crimes be to tip the scales of mercy?

No trial date has yet been set, nor much more information released, but crimes like this challenge the public to examine their beliefs: Where do you stand on capital punishment, and what does it take to push you from mercy to more drastic forms of retribution?

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Can We Find the Root of Radicalization?

Amine El Khalif, a Moroccan citizen living illegally in the United States, was arrested by the FBI on Friday 17 February, on his way to execute a suicide bombing attack at the U.S. Capitol.  FBI Director Robert Mueller reports El Khalifi was “radicalized online.”  The FBI has been investigating him for over a year, after finding him on the internet expressing his interest in planning an attack in the U.S.  His case, and his terrorism charges, are only one of twenty in the past year, demonstrating the vastness of the problem.
Instead of devoting all our resources, however, to capturing the man planning the attack, why do we not attempt to also investigate his motivations?  Certainly, if the FBI is comfortable explaining El Khalifi’s downward spiral as radicalization via the internet, then ought whomever or whatever radicalized him also be prosecuted?  Why are we treating the symptoms but ignoring the cause?  If more than twenty people have been independently radicalized, acted and been charged with terrorist acts, the source must be identified and investigated.

Censorship is out of the question, as it is unconstitutional, but at what point do our rights and freedoms allow for dangerous opinions to circulate in cyberspace?  What is the tradeoff?  It is confusing and difficult to admit that rights, pivotal and inherent as they may be to our country and its history, enable and even contribute to the radicalization of persons like El Khalifi, and potentially to the death of Americans.



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Presidential Prerogative

When reflecting on questions of National Security and Civil Liberties, it is important to look at the mesh of ethics within the political realm.  One of the most important, and pertinent, aspects of the concept of civil liberties is the role the government holds over the liberties and freedoms of its citizens.  This past fall our team attended the conference on National Security and Civil Liberties. The speakers in the opening session discussed this relationship between government rule and personal rights by looking at what structures are in place that help to protect our civil liberties as United States citizens and those that have the ability to strengthen the federal government’ s ability to infringe upon those liberties.  When reviewing United State’s history, government structure, and pluralistic body of citizens, the interplay between these three variables has evolved, and continues to, as the world becomes even more connected and autonomy valued more so than ever before.

Within the United States Constitution, three branches of government are outlined, created in a framework of checks and balances; additionally, amendments to the constitution, including the Bill of Rights, protect the inherent rights of United States citizens.  Here is where the fifth grade social studies lesson gets tricky—what happens when one branch of government is granted more power over another in efforts to either protect the state? A term that Professor Daniel Tichenor (University of Oregon) used that is especially important to this discussion is the “Prerogative President.”  Tichenor gave examples of this type of presidency and included Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and George W. Bush as key examples.  A prerogative president is one who is faced with the need to respond to a time of great turmoil and exercises much “prerogative” in protecting national security.  Based upon the actions of the presidents listed, the presidency has gained much power and control over national and international policy, especially in the 20th century.  This calls into question the checks and balances system put in place by the constitution and to what extent the prerogative of the executive branch has grown over the last century.  As we enter more deeply into the 21st century and the makeup of the global community continues to change, it will be important to note the role the president takes in deciding which policies and actions are put into place by the United States, particularly in the realm of national security and involvement in foreign affairs.

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Which Came First?

After attending the Tower Center’s conference on civil liberties versus national security, I found my mind reframing the relationship between these two important and impactful issues.  The placement of the word versus between the two terms implies war, which is inaccurate.  If we ever hope to reach an agreement between them, then the perspective cannot be that of zero sum.  Choosing one definitely over the other solves no problems.  Instead, perception can be shifted so that we might engage in more meaningful conversation about the trade offs that occur along a spectrum. A spectrum models the incremental changes that occur from absolute national security to absolute civil liberties.

Let’s take a look at the meaning and importance of both civil liberties and national security.  The obvious connection in the minds of Americans to civil liberties is the founding of our country, a democratic nation in which all men and women are created equally.  To abandon the inalienable rights granting us liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness is perhaps treacherous and most likely unconstitutional.  But is it wrong? Before the birth of this great nation, philosophers such as Hobbes and Locke were writing on the purpose and the need for the establishment of government.  In an anarchic world, law does not exist because there is no congress, judiciary or executive to enact or enforce it.  Men and women can run amok.  Social contract theory explains the agreement that a government inherently offers its citizens.  In exchange for following the rule of law, citizens are granted certain rights as determined by the government and, perhaps more importantly, they are protected by the government.  A government is an insurance policy of sorts.

Does agreeing to abide by federal law seem a small price to pay for the protection of the United States Armed Forces?

At what point does the reason for the creation of the government, security, become less important than the reason for the founding of this government, liberty?

I invite you to join MUSE as we seek to understand the answer to this question.

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2012, National Security, and the Elections

With the Iowa Caucus now behind us, the election cycle is in full swing. The economy, specifically “jobs,” will probably continue to dominate the news cycle and the debates. The ethical implications of corporate greed, high unemployment rates, lending practices, etc. are all very real and very timely. However, this year we decided that the questions we will tackle as a group are the ones that have to do with civil liberties and national security.

Civil liberties are the liberties (freedoms) that citizens are explicitly granted within a Nation, State, or other commonwealth. In the United States the Bill of Rights guarantees certain liberties, and other liberties are considered to be fundamental, the most famous of which come in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Simply claiming freedom for oneself or one’s fellow citizens, though, is not enough. There are necessary conditions for these liberties to exist. The next sentence in the Declaration of Independence reads: “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Governments are instituted to protect the rights of their citizens; the questions revolve around what sorts of tradeoffs are necessary for the protection of liberties. That is, in the quest for “national security,” we will have to suspend certain rights of certain people at certain times to guarantee the ongoing rights of the general citizenry. This is a tricky tradeoff, though. The most obvious current example of these debates can be seen in your recent holiday travels. Most of you left campus and some flew home or to other places. The heightened security measures at airport checkpoints after 2001 are a suspension of certain rights to privacy, but are a tradeoff for larger security concerns—or at least that is the way it can be argued.

For the rest of the year, you will hear political conversations about the economy, wars in foreign countries, the task of securing the United States border, and many other issues. For the rest of the school year, we intend to raise critical awareness about the way these and other national security concerns interact with civil liberties. I encourage you to pay close attention to the debates with the same critical awareness of what is at stake for you and for others regarding the protection of your liberties—and your responsibilities protecting them.

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