Sunday, August 30, 2015

Academia takes a sinister turn

Newly hired United States Military Academy (West Point) Assistant Law Professor William C. Bradford has called for the killing of certain law and ethics scholars in their offices, because he claims, by speaking out against some actions of the United States, or by calling for restraint on the use of military force in international relations, they have become enemy combatants in the war on Islamism.

No, I'm not making this up, and it isn't April Fools Day either.

Bradford's paper has been BIG news in the military ethics world, and now it seems it is big news outside of our circle as well, as evidenced by an article in The Guardian regarding Bradford's claims.

Bradford doesn't directly name the scholars he believes should be targeted (presumbaly out of a fear of litigation), except for a number who have the dubious honour of being cited in his footnotes in the 185 page long diatribe. Some of those he does name in the footnotes include Professor David Rodin from Oxford, Professor Gabbi Blum from Harvard, Professor David Luban from Georgetown, and Professor Michael Walzer from Princeton, who is the founding father of the modern study of Just War Theory.  I am relieved that no one in my department is directly named, however I would imagine he would have a major problem with my colleague & partner Stephen Coleman​'s TEDx talk on Terrorism & my post on the Red Cross teachings Hamas about IHL, as well as my recent talk about the documentary Drone at the Stonger than Fiction Film Festival, as well as the work of almost all of our friends and colleagues in the Military Ethics community.

Like the rest of the Military Ethics community I am horrified that someone would be allowed to publish such death threats - polite though they are, they are still calling for the bombing of scholars in their offices (including their home offices), as long as there isn't too much collateral damage.

I am saddened that West Point would hire such a person, especially since he allegedly had to leave a previous job for misrepresenting his military service - yes, I promise, I'm not making this up - as it tarnishes the reputation of the fine institution that West Point is, and the reputation of the other wonderful scholars who work there, some of whom ought to be targeted with violence according to his claims.

The National Security Law Journal has published an apology to their readers that states that they "made a mistake in publishing the highly controversial article" that was "not presentable for publication".  It goes on to say that they can't "unpublish the article" - whilst I agree you can't easily unpublish it in print form, the NSLJ continue to have it up online on their website, though it could be removed quite easily.  The decision to leave the paper up online, effectively means that the editorial committee are standing by their decision to publish it in the first place.

I have to say when I read the NSLJ apology, I had to read it twice and ask myself "I'm sorry, what did that pathetic excuse for a "cover-my-arse-in-case-something-goes-wrong" apology say?"  Seriously, Rick Myers, Editor on Chief, is that truly the best you can do?  No, we are not objecting to the fact that this article was "highly controversial", it is the fact that the author calls for the direct targeting of academics, in their offices (both at their institutions and at home).  This article isn't simply controversial, it is inciting people to violence. No, we aren't complaining because it was "not presentable for publication" - that implies that there are merely typographical or referencing mistakes that needed fixing prior to publication.

Simply put, I believe the Journal, the editor-in-chief Rick Myers, and the George Mason School of Law Dean Henry Butler owe an explanation to us all - starting with answering my most pressing questions; (1) Did you even READ this article before you published it, and if you did, (2) what the hell were you thinking when you decided to publish it?, and (3) When are you going to remove it from your website?

I do realise that this is a student run journal, however it is a postgraduate law school student run journal, that portrays itself as a respectable journal of law, not a High School newsletter. In fact on the "about us" section of the journal's website it states that the new journal logo "reflects the academic quality of our work. Together, they present a journal that is strong, innovative and committed to quality scholarship for the 21st century".  Sadly in publishing the article by Bradford, you have undermined your credibility as a journal capable of publishing "quality scholarship", and also that of the school who sponsors the journal.  If the NSLJ is going to claim to be a respectable journal of law, then the editorial board and all those affiliated with it have a responsibility to provide us with more in the way of answers than merely apologising for a controversial article that was not presentable for publication.

The George Mason School of Law has an honor code which states that "each student at George Mason University School of Law is entering a profession where honest and ethical conduct is not only a professional responsibility, but a legal requirement" - perhaps it is time that the students and faculty at the George Mason School of Law took that honor code seriously.

I wish to commend  Professor Jeremy Rabkin, a faculty member at the George Mason School of Law for publishing a piece titled "A Betrayal of Rational Argument" in which he discusses with great insight the article in question.  Perhaps Professor Rabkin should have written the apology for Rick Myers to use on the journal front page.

So this is my public call for the National Security Law Journal and West Point to stand up and be accountable for publishing and hiring William C. Bradford. The concept of academic freedom is essential, however the article by Bradford crosses over the line - in fact look behind you NSLJ and West Point, this professor has stepped soooooo far over that line you will need binoculars to find the line.   In academia we can have strongly held opposing views and still enter into a respectful dialogue - this is neither respectful nor dialogue.

EDIT - 1st September 2015 - William C. Bradford has resigned from West Point and this has been reported in The Guardian and by RetractionWatch who received a statemebt from West Point that said "Dr William Bradford resigned on Sunday.  He was hired on Aug. 1, 2015 and taught 5 lessons from Aug. 17-27.  He taught a common law corse".