President Obama of the USA decided that the torturers of Guantanamo would not be prosecuted for their acts, because they were ordered to do what they did. According to him not they but his predecessor, so former president Bush, was responsible for the torture. But is that really so? I mean, of course, president Bush was responsible for it, but does this imply that the torturers do not have a responsibility of their own for which they can be called to account, and for which they need to be called to account in case of a criminal act like torture?
The case makes me think of a famous study by Stanley Milgram, which I also mentioned in my blog of August 11, 2008, titled “No news”. As Milgram has shown in his famous study Obedience to Authority some people tend to think: “If this person with authority tells me that I can do it, it must be okay”, and then they simply execute what they are ordered to do, even when they know or could have known that what they do is not good, cruel or illegal, and should be despised, and even when they have the opportunity to say “No, I do not do it; I refuse to do it”.
In normal life it is accepted that subordinates follow the orders of the persons above them and then it is so that they above are held responsible for the acts of their subordinates. However, there is a limit and that is when these acts are illegal if not criminal. Then the subordinates have to say “No, I don’t do that”, even if they risk to lose their jobs. Obedience to authority is no excuse. There are even armies that go that far that orders must be refused if these orders require to do criminal or illegal acts. And why should there be an exception for the torturers of Guantanamo? Isn’t it so that in the end every person is responsible for his or her own acts? What would the world become if we would allow that obedience to authority is accepted as an excuse under any circumstance? That would lead to legalized criminality in the end. Only when one accepts that there are limits to obedience to authority, that these limits are there where criminality and illegality begins, and that each person is responsible for his or her own actions anyway, it is fundamentally possible to remove criminal and despicable acts like torture from the world. If we would accept that the executors of criminal acts can hide themselves behind the fact that they have no responsibility for the orders they take and that they simply have to execute them, whatever that order is, how can we expect then that these criminal and despicable acts can be and will be removed from the world?