The Lucifer Effect: Revisited

As President of the American National Section of the AIDP, I inaugurated this Blog on March 15 with my essay entitled “The Lucifer Effect.”  In response, a Dutch colleague whose opinions I respect posted the following insightful comment:

“Stating that “Lucifer Effects” are at the foundation of many barbaric situations in the world, could, in my opinion, analogously be put as a warning against the use of foreign force in these same situations. As many examples make clear, our own troops (and, as a European, I don’t just mean US troops) are victim of these same “Lucifer Effects” which make them act barbarically themselves: Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo are illustrative. Obviously, we fail in having our representatives in these conflicts, our armies, respect International Humanitarian Law and basic Human Rights. By this, we are putting “Lucifer Effects” into a conflict which is already inflamed by “Lucifer Effects” (See Scharf’s article) and thereby creating a new source for “Lucifer Effects”: a misbehaving alien power is, as an easy mutual enemy, a perfect binding source.”

I agree that every military intervention, no matter how justified, will generate barbaric acts on all sides.  And for that reason, nations must always exercise the highest degree of caution when contemplating a military response to grave human rights violations.  But the answer is not to remain always on the sidelines, while crimes against humanity are committed with impunity (as in Darfur).  To this end, let me quote from Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, in which the noted author and Holocaust survivor reminded us:

“We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  Sometimes we must interfere.  When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.  Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

For those who are interested in other expert views about when (if ever) it is appropriate to employ force in response to crimes against humanity, I invite you to attend the Hague Joint Conference on Contemporary Issues of International Law – 2007: “Criminal Jurisdiction 100 Years after the 1907 Hague Peace Conference,” June 28-30, at the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel in The Hague, The Netherlands.  I am serving as Co-Chair of the Hague Joint Conference, which features a dozen panels of the world’s foremost experts, including: “Defining, Suppressing and Trying Genocide,” and “International Humanitarian Intervention in the Post-September 11 Era.”   For more information about the Hague Joint Conference, see: http://www.asser.nl/hjc/index.asp .