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The Long View


Distinguished Leaders Focus on World Problems We Ignore at Our Peril

The Long View logoTerrorism... Genocide... Global Warming... Pandemic Disease...

We often do not see an impending crisis until it is upon us. What problems of today threaten to become tomorrow's crises if we don't extend our nearsighted focus? On Thursday, March 9, 2006, members of the Ethics Center International Advisory Board -- internationally renowned judges, authors, educators, and diplomats -- attended a panel presentation at which they identified and discussed the dangerous blind spots in world consciousness.

"The Long View" was conceived as an open invitation to consider the current state of global affairs not as a static picture but as a single frame in a larger story – one whose end has yet to be determined. Through a day-long series of events culminating in an open dialogue about the future, members of the Ethics Center International Advisory Board urged the entire Brandeis community to reflect on the wheels already in motion around the world. As internationally renowned judges, authors, educators, and diplomats, the Board members provided their own historical insight and encouraged students to act now, rather than react later, to secure the future they envision.

Politics in America

In one of the first sessions of the day, board member Stephen Solarz '62 spoke to Professor Peter Woll's "Introduction to American Government" class about the lessons he gleaned from a 24-year career in public service that included nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his time in Congress, he came to realize that the most effective way to influence a piece of legislation was through the committees on which one serves.

He also discovered that, when serving on the subcommittees on Africa and Asia, mastering the substance of a given issue meant traveling to those places where the United States had concerning interests. In his trips, Solarz routinely logged 16-hour days meeting with heads of state, opposition leaders, students, businessmen, journalists, and others, in an effort to educate himself as much as possible. "After three or four days, focusing with laser-like intensity, it was amazing how much you could learn," he said.

Solarz acknowledged that many members are reluctant to travel, because voters tend to see congressional travel either as a taxpayer-funded vacation or – if private funds are used instead – as a sign that one is beholden to special interest groups.

Solarz admitted there was some behavior that should be curtailed and said he would support any reform that would discourage abuses of power and misuse of taxpayer money. But, he added, "if it had the effect of discouraging travel, it would do the nation a profound disservice."

The U.S.-led "War on Terror"

Board member Michael Ratner '66 spoke of abuses of a very different nature in his discussion with Richard Gaskins' "Introduction to Law" class. Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has sued the U.S. government over treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. Since 9/11, he said, President Bush has used the threat of terrorism "as a means of gathering tremendous power," and has undermined the rights of individuals to contest their detention and be free from torture.

Representing suspected terrorists in 2001 was not an easy decision in his office, Ratner said. "We knew people who were murdered in 9/11, a few blocks away. I went there believing I'd be representing a genuine terrorist. But they deserved a fair trial."

To his surprise, Ratner learned – far earlier than most of the country – that many of those in Guantanamo are guilty of nothing. He also learned that some Guantanamo detainees were being tortured.

Although Arizona Senator John McCain attempted to prevent such treatment in his amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, Ratner said Bush quietly sidestepped that attempt. In his "signing statement," in which a president clarifies his interpretation of the document he is signing into law, Bush asserted that he views any limits on interrogation in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. Many specialists believe that means Bush will waive the restrictions when he sees fit.

In addition to the harm done to those who are tortured, Ratner said such a policy on the part of the United States could threaten human rights worldwide for years to come. "The next time a country in the world says, ‘We're going to torture in the name of national security,' they're going to point to the United States," he said.

Human Rights in an International Context

The subject of human rights was again discussed later in the day, when Richard Goldstone and Shiranee Tilakawardane spoke to students in the Sustainable International Development master's program shortly after lunch. Goldstone is a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and Tilakawardane is a justice of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. Both have played important roles in the push for human rights in their countries.

In the case of South Africa, the constitutional fathers decided that social and economic rights should be reflected expressly by their bill of rights. He recalled a case in which a poor village was completely washed out when a normally dry riverbed became flooded. When the government set up a fund to build temporary housing in a different area, residents of an adjacent wealthy neighborhood sued the government and won on the grounds that there was no legislation permitting such an action. On appeal, the Constitutional Court overturned the ruling, declaring that the government does not need specific legislation to follow the dictates of the constitution, i.e. caring for those who are in the direst need.

In her own push for justice, Tilakawardane has continually stressed the concept of equality. Though it seems on the surface to be a fairly simple concept, Tilakawardane said equality is at times a complex matter. Individuals in a legal dispute are often treated exactly the same, regardless of any disparity in social standing, access to power, financial resources, or language ability. When that happens, true equality has not been achieved.

"You cannot give similar treatment and call it equality," said Tilakawardane. "You must give dissimilar treatment, you must accommodate the disadvantages that create inequalities."

The Main Event

At 4 pm, 11 members of the Board assembled in Rapaporte Treasure Hall for an intergenerational discussion with Brandeis students, moderated by Center director Daniel Terris. Board Chairman Theodore Sorensen, former policy advisor, legal counsel, and speechwriter to President John F. Kennedy, set the tone for the discussion in reciting words spoken by Justice Louis Brandeis in 1928:

"Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."

Sorensen went on to sharply criticize the U.S. government over its policies of indefinite detainment at Guantanamo Bay and unauthorized wiretaps, both of which he considered violations of law. He also mourned the deaths of the over 2,300 U.S. soldiers who were sent to Iraq under what he saw as an ill-conceived plan.

Sorensen expressed dismay over the ever-growing gap between rich and poor in America, and the fact that the United States has never ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, intended to stave off environmental degradation.

"Some of that will never be reversed," said Sorensen. "You in the student generation will have to climb uphill to try to make up for what has been done. But I don't know anyone better equipped to do it than you, and that's why I'm here today."

Hans Corell, former U.N. Legal Counsel and Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, echoed some of Sorensen's words from an international perspective. At a recent panel in Alexandria, Egypt, Corell asked his colleagues in the Arab world what issue they most wanted to see addressed in Washington. Their answer: double standards that favor the West. Leaders across the globe chafe at criticism over the rule of law in their countries, he said, when they see the United States behaving in the same way with impunity – indefinitely detaining terror suspects without a trial or legal counsel, and invading another country against the wishes of the U.N. Security Council.

Corell foretold a shift in the economics of power in the next 50 years, citing a prediction made in Business Week magazine in August 2005: by 2050, the combined economy of India and China will represent 45 percent of the world's GNP, outstripping that of the United States and European Union, which will total 41 percent. Japan will have roughly another 4 percent – leaving the rest of the world to compete over the remaining 10 percent.

"What does it mean for disgruntled young men without a job in areas of the world on which we depend?" he asked. "What happens when someone says to the United States, ‘You now expect us to deliver on what you did not deliver when you were in power'? The judgment of history will be very harsh."

Former Congressman Stephen Solarz pointed out that not all military intervention must be authorized by the Security Council to be morally justifiable; NATO troops, led by the United States, prevented the deaths of perhaps tens of thousands of Muslim Kosovars in 1999. A resolution for such action could not have been obtained in the Security Council, because Russia would have vetoed any action out of solidarity with Serbia.

Diego Arria, Special Adviser for Venezuela to the Secretary General of the United Nations, agreed with Solarz and acknowledged that the burden of such action often falls on the United States. "When the United States does not lead, which was the situation in Bosnia, the international community fails to respond."

Brandeis firstyear Ron Kendler questioned whether one or more countries should attempt to codify or justify such humanitarian intervention, to specify those situations in which there is a moral imperative to stray from agreed-upon procedures. Richard Goldstone acknowledged that there can be a gap between the law and morality, and said new rules could help to narrow that gap. He also encouraged the audience to consider whether the veto power weakens global respect for the Security Council.

Board member Norbert Weissberg recalled that it is not only humanitarian intervention that is seen as justified; in June 1981, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin authorized an attack on a nuclear reactor being built in Tuwaitah, Iraq, fearing that Saddam Hussein ultimately intended to use nuclear weapons against Israel.

"Under certain circumstances, a preemptive strike is justifiable," said Weissberg. "The issues, obviously, are extremely complex."

Author James Carroll chose to step away from the wording of international laws and take a broader look at the spirit behind them. He recalled the birth of the United Nations after the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, and the seemingly unanimous desire among countries of the world to establish an international rule of law. In the ensuing years, he said, the United States defined itself around nuclear weapons – to the point that even after Communism fell in Eastern Europe in 1989, it was the United States that refused to step away from the nuclear table.

"The consensus (in 1945) was, ‘War has become too destructive. We have to find an alternative,'" said Carroll. "What strikes me is how rare that sentiment is today. War is once again taken for granted as a way in which nations should conduct themselves. The world is desperate for a movement away from the culture of war, fully into the culture of law. It has been desperate since 1945, and it still is."


Schedule of "Long View" Events

Wednesday March 8 - Prequel

TIME

TOPIC

5:30 pm

"Wandering Souls: Ritual and Theatre in the Cambodian Context" with playwright Catherine Filloux.

7 pm

"Confronting the Consequences of Conflict: Our Journey Through Four Different Countries"
Presentations of the 2005 Ethics Center Student Fellows about their internships in Israel, Northern Ireland, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

Thursday March 9

TIME

TOPIC

BOARD MEMBERS

9:10 –
10 am
"Congress and Leadership in the 21st Century" Stephen Solarz '62

10 –
11:30 am

"World Responses to Past Genocides: Lessons for Darfur"

Diego Arria & Hans Corell

10:10 –
11 am

"Ethical Dimensions Of Work: An International Jurist's Perspective"

Richard Goldstone

10:10 –
11 am

"Moving Toward Tyranny: Detention, Torture, Disappearance (and wiretapping) in Our America"

Michael Ratner '66

11:10 am –
Noon

"American Political Power And Cultural Influence In The World"

Stephen Solarz '62 & Shiranee Tilakawardane

Noon –
1:30 pm

"U.S. Foreign Policy To Asia: Focus On China"

Morton Abramowitz & Stephen Solarz '62

12:10 –
1 pm

"A View from Venezuela: The Uncertain Process of Democratization in Latin America"

Diego Arria

12:15 –
1:45 pm

"Constitutions, Individual Rights, And Sustainable International Development"

Richard Goldstone & Shiranee Tilakawardane

1:10 –
2 pm
"Moving Toward Tyranny: Detention, Torture, Disappearance (and wiretapping) in Our America" Michael Ratner '66
1:45 –
2 pm
Discussion with South African students Richard Goldstone

2 –
3:30 pm

"Public Policy, Journalism, and Religion: Critical Connections"

James Carroll

4 pm

"The Long View: Distinguished Leaders Focus on World Problems We Ignore at Our Peril"

All board members