Sticking To Your Values

March 11, 2010

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“Sticking to Your Values”

If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values, they’re hobbies.

-Jon Stewart

That might be my favorite modern quote, because it’s one that rings so true these days, on both sides of the aisle.  Every single president elect in recent times has stood up when the votes were tallied and the opposing party has conceded and given a speech about how they will change this and make that right and accomplish this.  They say they will work with the other party.  They claim we need to stick to our values, to make our country great again.  In the end, most of the things we say end up getting tossed out the window.  The context of that quote was in response to Bill O’Reilly saying that sometimes we need to compromise our values to keep our country safe.

Every single one of us who went to grade school in the United States grew up learning the core values this country was founded on and later built upon:  freedom, opportunity, and tolerance.  We have all come to be told that justice is blind, and the law treats all equally.  If this is the case, why did the United States go against two documents it signed – the treaties of the Geneva Convention and the United Nations Convention Against Torture (signed by Reagan) – and torture captives at Guantanamo Bay?  We generally react pretty strongly when a country says one thing and does another, especially something we disagree on, why should we not expect others to do the same about us? 

In World War II both the Japanese and the Germans used waterboarding on prisoners.  This was decried as torture by our country.  This was declared as wrong by the Geneva Convention.  In spite of this the United States, under the direction of at least Vice President Dick Cheney, authorized waterboarding to be used on captives at Guantanamo Bay.  He not only admitted as much, he’s been openly critical of the current administration for their official stance against torture.  So we have a former vice president who has openly admitted to authorizing torture, and has said torture saved lives despite evidence to the contrary.

Almost as bad, we have a current president who is refusing to investigate the previous administration under the guise of extending an olive branch to the other side.  Even if no crime was technically committed, the spirit of the Geneva Convention and the UNCAT were broken giving the US a black eye in the view of the world.  Just another reason for the rest of the world to view the US as an aging bully, throwing waning power around because it’s scared.  Going right along with the scared bully image is J.D. Hayworth, running for John McCain’s seat in Arizona in 2010.  Appealing to the terrorist-fearing crowd, he recently said not only was Dick Cheney right to authorize torture, he didn’t go far enough.  We should not only be waterboarding anyone who might have information to give, we should be breaking fingers and shoving bamboo shoots under toenails.  The message I’m getting:  torture is wrong when the Japanese do it to us in WWII, but we’re allowed to use it when we feel like because we’re the US.

Dropping your values when it suits you is nothing new in politics.  Joe Lieberman claimed that he would fight for health care for everyone in Connecticut when he ran for senate in 2008, now he’s the poster child for me-first, just-vote-against-the-other-guy politics.  After the first World Trade Center in 1993, then-mayor Rudy Guilliani praised the US civillian justice system for its handling of Omar Abdel-Rahmanm.  When Zacarias Moussaoui was convicted in 2006, Guilliani expressed displeasure at him not getting a death sentence from a civillian jury, but said it shows the United States is commited to fairness and law. 

Fast forward to 2010 when Barrack Obama said he wants to shut down Guantanimo Bay and try the remaining terrorists in NYC and Guilliani acts like Chicken Little and claims the trials will make a mockery of the US justice system and our country is ill-suited to handling terrorist trials.  Little Fact, Rudy:  91% of terrorist trials in the last 12 years have resulted in a conviction.  I would expect more from a man who built his pre-political career as a tough prosecutor, but since he can’t go two breaths without utterng 9/11 I’m not surprised.

It’s not all partisan, though.  One of my biggest issues with Barrack Obama is his claiming on the campaign trail that any alleged US torture needs to be investigated.  President Obama has dropped the ball on this, as there is no sign of an official investigation and I can only assume it’s both a futile olive-branch gesture to the right and a pre-emptive covering of his own butt once he gets out of office.

Sticking to your values is a rare, rare thng in politics these days.  To finish up here, I’d like to salute two very, very different men in politics who have stuck to their values in recent times:  Dennis Kucinich and Ken Starr.  Congressman Kucinich as spoken out against the current health care bill being tossed around for a “reconciliation” vote because it does not contain a public option or a single-payer system.  He has been steadfast on the issue to the point of being willing to be the deciding vote against it.  Ken Starr recently spoke out against Liz Cheney for attacking US Justice Department lawyers as an Al-Quaeda sympathists because they defended terrorists in the US justice system.  Mr. Starr says that lawyers have a fine tradition of trying their best no matter who they’re assigned to defend, and he would do the same.  Sticking to your values may be rare in politics these days, but it need not be one side or the other.  In the end it makes you look like a far, far better person.

18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 13:24:43

    I have no issues with using unorthodox methods to get information that may help national security. Our values should be first and foremost to protect the citizens of the country and then second to play by a rule set that everyone sees as politically correct. The FBI, KGB and every other intelligence agency has used tactics such as these in secret prisons for decades so the US and the rest of the world are not new to the game. For those that worry about our reputation I suggest you go look at the conditions in some prisons around the world. Some of those prisoners would kill to be at Guantanamo Bay instead of having body parts hacked off, raped and starved.

    In the end we need to live in the real world and realize that trying to operate on too high a moral ground is not always realistic and the international community will always complain about our faults even though the good we do far outweighs the bad. I don’t see countries that are also rich like China doing nearly as much as the US in terms of helping the world. I agree with Guilliani in that if you try using our judicial system in cases where there may be little evidence and many complicated pieces to the puzzle which we may need to gather
    using unorthodox methods then you may create a mockery.


  2. Zarberg
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 13:31:55

    You missed the point of the article. This isn’t about protecting our country, it’s about holding to our values. What good are we as a country if we give our word on something (sign multiple treaties) and then disregard that due to circumstances? Something I didn’t mention is torture doesn’t work. Multiple experts and agencies have said as much. You’re more likely to get false information from someone wanting to make the torture stop than you are of getting the right information.

    A few other points:

    If we drop our morals in times of strife, what good are they? It’s like saying “it’s not cheating if I sleep with other people only when I’m extra horny.”
    China isn’t rich, they’re big.
    Guilliani not only fully supported civilian tries for previous terrorists, he went as far as saying New York should host those trials.


  3. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 13:46:19

    I didn’t miss the point, I just don’t agree with what you are saying.

    1) By all measures China is a rich country. Don’t confuse that with the average person in China being rich but they are either now 2 or 3 in GDP and growing. In 10-20 years they may be just like the US if not bigger.

    2) The same organizations saying torture doesn’t work keep using it so I think it does work if done properly.

    3) Your example of cheating is a like this article in that it is too black/white and not based in enough reality. What if the example is classic would you steal bread to feed your starving children? Or would you kill in war or self defense? In these situations are you standing by your strict black/white values of stealing and killing is always wrong?

    4) Basically everyone signed the treaties you discuss. Basically everyone uses some form of torture so why should the US be the poster child of goodness?

    Lastly, you listed our first core value as freedom but you missed pursuit of happyness. Both of these are supposed to be protected for the citizens of a country (not just the US but any country) so if the government thinks this is the way to do it then the question of your article should be more whether our approach works but not that we have no values.


  4. Zarberg
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 14:00:37

    You can’t use GDP to measure a country’s wealth in your example. I can present the example of a fictional country with a trillion people who each make $20 a year and by your definition, they’re “rich.”

    Torture. Doesn’t. Work.

    Army Field Manual 34-52 Chapter 1 says:

    “Experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation. Therefore, the use of force is a poor technique, as it yields unreliable results, may damage subsequent collection efforts, and can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

    Brigadier General David R. Irvine, retired Army Reserve strategic intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years with the Sixth Army Intelligence School, says torture doesn’t work

    A declassified FBI e-mail dated May 10, 2004, regarding interrogation at Guantanamo states ” explained to , FBI has been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.”

    The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously found that torture doesn’t work.

    The agencies that are “still using it” are not. They used it during the Cheney administration because they were told to by the people authorizing it.

    You can feel free to be known as someone who will turn their back on their values to survive. I’d rather be known as someone who will stick to my values no matter what happens. Values, by definition, are black and white. When the line becomes blurry, when shades of gray are needed, they’re not values any more.

    “Everyone” signed the treaties (except Iran, Iraq, a half dozen African nations, Burma, North Korea and a few others) because they want to end the practice of torture. I’m not naive enough to think no one tortures if they signed the treaty, I have no doubts, Russia, Israel, and many others still use violent, barbaric methods to get what they think is valid information. I want the US to be better than that. I want to be the only kid on the block who can outsmart the bad guys to get what we need, not out-brutalize them.

    I suppose I misnamed freedom as a value, but it’s also an ideal and a right. Everyone has the right to be free, to pursue a life of happiness and to expect that their government won’t say one thing and do another.


  5. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 14:57:57

    You are obviously either an idealist and not a realist or your values have never been put to the test. Values by definition are not black and white. They are things you believe in as being right and should be used to guide judgment. So if someone in a concentration camp stole bread because they were being starved I am not going to question that as a lack of values even though I am sure they follow a value of not stealing under normal circumstances.

    GPD is exactly what you use to measure a countries wealth. If a country has the highest GPD then even if the citizens earn 20 dollars a year which by the way in many countries may be considered good then that country can give help. If I flip the example and say a country with a tiny population was all millionaires then by your logic the country would be rich even though in reality they may have less money then Bill Gates. Your definition of a “rich” country would not be able to bring any change in this world.

    When I said everyone signed the treaty I meant what we consider normally the first world countries that largely drive global politics. If Tuvalu (population 12,000) doesn’t join the UN I doubt anyone thinks any less of the UN as a global mediator.

    You also still don’t seem to get it that our country tries to guarantee many things that at times are in opposition so you need to pick the higher value. Freedom is #1 which includes freedom from terrorism. In your world of black and white we would have no prisons as surely they are not free.

    Lastly, I am not expert on torture or if it works but for every quote you find of someone saying it does not I am sure there is one that says it does. Some of the countries you mentioned have the best intelligence agencies on earth so if they us torture then either you know something that they dont or they are not telling us something because they know the idealist Americans like you will not want to hear anything ugly. It is crazy talk to say that the US was using torture simply because the administration told them to.

    God help us if you can base an entire argument on only the great philosopher Jon Stewart.


  6. Zarberg
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 15:08:22

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    You can be proud of your country that lied its way into invading another, turned its back on treaties it signed and uses brutality, violence, and pain to get information. I’ll continue to argue against that and hope my country practices what it preaches even when times are tough.


  7. kosmo
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 15:09:11

    Mm, I’m also not a big fan of using GDP to measure wealth. I also see the point in not using per capita income.

    I think you guys are mean two different things when you talk about wealth.

    A) Purchasing power of the country
    B) Standard of life in the country

    I don’t think either of these if the WRONG answer – I just think “wealth” is a vague word.


  8. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 15:34:39

    There are a few hundred other countries that you can move to including some that will kill you if you don’t practice what the government preaches so they have very strong values and they stick to them in a black and white format.

    I suggest you consider going to one of those places even if for a little while and then consider if you live in a country that lies and has a lack of values or one that has a high standard of living, provides more freedoms than most, provides more opportunity than most and provides more help to third world countries than most.

    You just sound like a guy that outside of living in a place like tibet will always see the government glass as half empty.

    I am not saying we are not doing a lot of things wrong but torturing the innocent terrorists is just so low on my list.


    I grew up in a different country and find that most that have been oppressed somewhere else don’t share your attitude on America. I find most Americans that grew up with no real issues to deal with are very much on your side of the fence. Guess its one of those the grass is greener type things. If you have little then something seems like a lot. If you always had everything then it is easy to be dissatisfied.


  9. Zarberg
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 15:38:07

    Is English your first language? I don’t think you’re getting what I’m saying. Maybe I’m not saying it right, though.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love this country, it has been and still is the best country in the world. I’ll just never stop criticizing what I think could be improved.


  10. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 16:43:06

    Not sure what English being someone’s first language or tenth has to do with comprehension. I figured someone with such high values as yourself would not have made such an ignorant and low blow comment. So if I am a fresh off the boat immigrant then I must not be understanding your message? Perhaps it is your writing skills that you should work on so your message is more clear. But as I said before your argument is rooted in an ideal world that most can’t afford to live in. That is my only real point.


  11. Zarberg
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 16:52:49

    Ignorant or low blow? Not at all, I was trying to see if we were having a communication issue. And guess what? A fresh, off-the-boat immigrant who doesn’t share a common original language with me will probably have some difficulty understanding my message.

    I may very well need to make my writing more clear, though.

    Call me naive, but I feel we don’t need to torture people to make this country as safe as possible, in any circumstances. The Cheney administration claims it was doing everything possible to make us safer by using torture, but they also discharged gay Arabic and Farsi speakers from the military who were a clear asset against terrorism. Ironically, that’s an example of them sticking to their guns to do what they felt was right even if it had the side-effect of something negative.


  12. kosmo
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 17:33:11

    Let’s stay civil, folks, We can politely disagree.


  13. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 17:55:29

    I think I commented on your gays in the military article as I agreed with you 100% but that has little to do with this.

    I am by no means a Cheney fan. The man is very far from perfect or from having strong values.


  14. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 17:56:14

    And I was hoping from my comments and the fact I write articles for this blog you would have figured out that I have some grasp on the English language.


  15. Zarberg
    Mar 11, 2010 @ 22:36:06

    Found this in the text of the treaty that resulted from the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the one that Ronald Reagan signed in 1984:

    “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

    Maybe I’m just too blind to my own opinion, but that seems to disagree with your point that in extreme times we should revert to extreme measures.


  16. Peter Rabbit
    Mar 12, 2010 @ 09:22:26

    It is just so pointless to continue to find quotes in UN treaties. The UN has no real power and again most of the things they come up with are not practiced and hold little weight in real life. They are the ideals that are published that governments should follow.

    See the UN’s opinion on Iran developing nuclear weapons and see how many countries we have imposed sanctions on for “violating” UN treaties. If you can tell me that you are the one guy that has never told a lie and has done nothing wrong in his life and treats every situation in the same manner that I congratulate you on having outstanding values. Otherwise trying to hold the US to a standard that no other country has achieved nor has any human being that I know except maybe the Dali Lama is not really fair.

    I think the bottom line is your definition of values is incorrect. I believe values are things we believe to be right and guide our decision making, period. As I said before if you try to apply them as black and white then we can’t have prisons as this takes away freedom and we are condemning people who have stolen to feed their families or killed to protect their families. In some situations I won’t condemn them.

    If I apply your definition then 99% of us have no values as I am sure we don’t donate as much as we could, we don’t always help our fellow man and don’t do a lot of the things that based on good values we should.


  17. Zarberg
    Mar 12, 2010 @ 09:27:44

    You can make all the cute little excuses you want. You can say what your values should be, and what they are. In the end, our country gave our word and we broke it. You say that’s ok to survive, I say I’d rather go down as an honest man than die a liar. That’s the bottom line.

    We’re going to agree to disagree, so this is the last I’ll say on it. I won’t be surprised if you feel you have to get the last word in.


  18. Moderate Mel
    Mar 21, 2010 @ 15:13:12

    Zarberg – your passive/aggressive comment to end that interesting thread of comments is childish. Up to then, you’d done reasonably well at keeping things on the up-and-up.


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