. "Philosophical and Legal Aspects of Human Rights." International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies: Proceedings - Symposium and Seventh Biennial Meeting, London, May 18-20, 2005. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
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International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies
unreliable citizen, or is it simply a matter of totally unimaginative applications of laws without any kind of hidden agenda about it?
Agre – I think it is assumed by many of us that there is a hidden agenda, not necessarily against Dr. Butler. He is the unfortunate individual who happened to drive into the speed trap when they were on alert, and the infractions in terms of the bioterror guidelines would be treated very seriously to make an example for other scientists. That is my belief, and the federal government has refused to comment. There is nothing that we, or others, have discovered that indicates that Dr. Butler is a seriously deranged individual or a criminal individual. They got him by whatever means they could. I think this is an example of someone being deliberately persecuted, and he had to go to jail. The publicity and the extent of the federal investigation of this presumed bioterror scare was such that the embarrassment caused the problem.
Rosemary Foote – I am a professor of international relations from Oxford. To Dr. Agre, but also to Baroness O’Neill, I’d like to bring the two ideas together and refer to some of the dangers in the discussion of duties and obligations at a time when the government’s claim is high threats to national security—in other words, terrorist threats. In your case, the federal government would have claimed that it was the duty of the government to protect its U.S. citizens from terrorism. The problem is that the language of duties and obligations has been captured by governments in this particular era, or in all eras in which there is a high national security threat. You could find it in the cold war, too. Although I accept your argument on theoretical, philosophical grounds, in the same way that rights have taken off for all kinds of political reasons, duties and obligations have been grabbed by governments that actually let loose their security services. If we hear about a case like this with respect to the United States, which has the so-called separation of powers, imagine what is happening in so many other countries around the world in this era. Therefore, this society, the Network, and others should be really careful, if you adopt the language of duties and obligations in this political era because of the misuse of these terms. I see the point made by the Danish professor of law about civil society and trying to grab hold of this language of duty and obligations. I see more hope for it in their hands, than in the hands of current governments.
O’Neill – My argument was not that we could shift to the vocabulary of duties and obligations as against that of rights. I couldn’t have argued that because I argue that the two vocabularies are too completely inextricable and that some obligations are mirror images of duties and conversely. There is no choice there. Again, I know I did use the phrase once, and it was not the sort of looseness I like to use. The choice of vocabulary seems to me to be an unwise phrase in this era, unless one is only talking about public rhetoric. I think when we get down to what actually happens, we need to use whichever of the vocabularies can be made adequately precise. In this terrible case [of Thomas Butler], it is clear, among other things, that it was considered wholly acceptable to pursue. It goes back to the issue of the media. For the media to refer to this person as if he were a criminal convicted of a crime against humanity, at the point when he had been charged in very specific ways, that is called throwing the book at someone—when you charge them with many, many things, hoping that one or two will stick. That is hardly, as it were, an indictment of talking about obligations. Everybody will use both vocabularies, but the grounding is what I was recommending.