About the Base Values

The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson has interviewed Jose Rodriguez about his role in the Central Intelligence Agency’s enhanced-interrogation program.

Beyond its normative focus—was it right for the CIA to have waterboarded and indefinitely detained suspected terrorists?—the interview was interesting for what it revealed about the Rodriguez’s interpretation of his mission.

… Doesn’t every generation think that it’s facing different kinds of enemies than anybody else has ever faced? Isn’t that why we ended up detaining Japanese-Americans? Is that useful, to always think that it’s so different and not to go back to the base values that we started with?

That’s another issue completely, about the base values. I totally reject the President’s statement that this was against our values—it was precisely because we wanted to protect our values and our system of government that we did this. And I’m very secure in what we did and the reasoning for this, which was to protect the American people. …

If you do something that could possibly threaten your system of norms and values in the service of protecting those norms and values, I assume you would want to be clear about what those norms and values are. In other words, if you’re out to protect values—one of which is certainly safeguarding lives, and another of which is certainly due process—how is a discussion of values “another issue completely”? Isn’t it central to the issue at hand?

Rodriguez was a member of the executive branch and he didn’t and doesn’t necessarily need to articulate his understanding of American values to perform his job. But he wrote a book and agreed to an interview with the New Yorker, which puts him firmly in the world of ideas.

So, okay: Rodriguez was protecting American values and America’s system of government. Which values? All of them, or just the ones that he finds appealing? And if what he did was always legal and never antithetical to some of our other values, why bother talking about values at all?

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