What should a public servant do if the government pursues a morally objectionable policy?
“[Australian Public Service] staff who contemplate the question above need only consider any number of recent cases in which public servants, when required to develop or implement a morally questionable policy, acted either ”immorally” by complying with the wishes of their minister or government, or ”unprofessionally” by seeking to intentionally undermine their government and its policy. To take an extreme but important example that underscores the former, consider Adolf Eichmann, the German bureaucrat and lieutenant-colonel in the Schutzstaffel (or SS). Eichmann was one of the officials charged and subsequently sentenced to death by an Israeli court in 1961 for his role in implementing the Holocaust (a legal policy of the Hitler government) among other actions.
Books such as Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963) and David Cesarani’s Eichmann: His Life and Crimes (2006) demonstrate Eichmann is a controversial yet relevant case study when considering the question above, given he is perhaps the most famous example of a public servant who was found criminally liable for implementing a legal (under German law) yet immoral government policy.
Eichmann, for his part, never denied his official involvement in the Holocaust (among other government policies that he was responsible for implementing). His role was limited to organising the logistics of transporting Jews and other civilians to concentration and death camps such as Auschwitz. He was never involved in developing or approving official German government policy. Rather, Eichmann, his defence lawyer said, considered himself ”guilty before God but not before the law”, claiming that while the Holocaust was ”one of the greatest crimes in the history of humanity” his official actions were consistent with German government policy and German law.”