Former JFK speechwriter joins ethics discussion
A panel of renowned academics and professionals from the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life's International Advisory Board discussed current and future international problems Thursday in Rapaporte Treasure Hall.The event, titled "The Long View," featured a speech by Advisory Board Chairman Theodore Sorenson, an international lawyer and former speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, who opened the program by discussing the importance of the rule of law in society.
Sorenson was critical of the Bush administration, particularly its treatment of terrorist suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay and the President's approval of a National Security Agency wiretapping program.
"One law after another, the rule of law has been suppressed," Sorenson said. "This is totally contrary to the Bill of Rights. It is totally bad law to claim the articles of the constitution take precedence over the Bill of Rights."
Sorenson spoke of the negative influence the Bush administration's foreign policies have had on domestic attitudes toward the rule of law.
"In this country, the tone is set at the top," he said. "If the tone set at the top is one of defiance of law and international law, that [defiance], in time, filters down. Law breaking and law defiance in a country based on the rule of law becomes a very different country."
Sorenson said he didn't know if the situation in the United States was irreversible.
"Our children and grandchildren and you, the student generation, will have to climb uphill to undo what's been done," he said. "I don't know of anyone better to do it than you, and that's why I'm here today."
Following Sorenson's speech, Board Member Hans Corell, a former Swedish diplomat and under-secretary general for legal affairs and legal counsel of the United Nations discussed larger international trends.
"There is a major shift going on in the globe," Corell said, citing projected economic statistics for 2050 in which the economies of other nations will "trump" those of the United States and the European Union.
Corell reiterated Sorenson's point about the importance of the rule of law.
"Wherever there are conflicts, if you go to the roots of them, the answer is the same: There is no rule of law," he said.
Former Democratic Congressman Stephen Solarz '62 disagreed with Corell and Sorenson's assertions that a UN Security Council resolution is necessary for humanitarian intervention to be morally valid. He referenced the ethnic conflicts in Kosovo of the 1990s, where he said, "a genocide was ended by NATO without a resolution," as well as the current situation in Darfur, where "the African Union is unequal to the task" of halting violence in the region.
"Are we going to take the position that we will sit idly by while genocide in Darfur continues because China might veto it?" Solarz asked.
Following the panel presentations, students asked questions to the board members.
One student asked about codifying and justifying human intervention, which was responded to by Richard Goldstone, a justice on the Constitutional Court in South Africa and the chief prosecutor of the United Nations Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
"When there's a gap between morality and the law, the law suffers because it's not respected," Goldstone said. "We're moving in the direction of new understanding, new rules in the case of human intervention."
Goldstone mentioned the ability of permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions as being a weakness, since "one can thwart the opinion of the overwhelming majority."
"The Long View" panel discussion was the culminating event of a series of presentations given by board members throughout the week.