American Principle and Policy

By Jerry King

Gina Haspel’s nomination to be the Director of the CIA has reopened soul-searching debate about the place of morality and “Core Values” in American policy. This past week we’ve asked whether Haspel had a role in torturing captured terrorists after September 11? Did she condone or participate in acts euphemistically called extreme interrogation? If so was she “simply following orders?” Did she later destroy evidence of her participation? Does she regret her role? Excuse CIA decisions given the post-September 11 environment? Think the actions were immoral but lawful? Could they be lawful then, but intolerable today? Did those measures even produce desired results? Would she condemn those past actions? By failing to do so, has she disqualified herself to be Director of the CIA?

As CIA director, would Haspel reinstitute torture knowing it now to be immoral. She said that she would not; that she has a “strong moral compass.” But if she were ordered by the President? Candidate Trump, pandering to the most reactionary elements of his base, said he’d order water boarding again and worse. Is it our expectation that the Director of the CIA should have an uncompromising moral compass? Can we ensure that expectation?

As informed citizens we need to understand Gina Haspel as well as we can. But whatever comes of her nomination, long-lasting questions remain. Is morality in national policy to be defined simply as what is lawful? Do our moral boundaries shift with new and threatening circumstances? We have a three-legged stool of American principle and policy: National policy, on one hand expressed in foundational principles such as in the Bill of Rights is also driven by perceived threats. Policy makers, like Gina Haspel, surely think of themselves as possessing a strong moral compass; but we often find critical disparities in
how we and our leaders define moral: Dick Cheney and John Bolton would tell us that it’s immoral to be naïve and weak.

Finally, we have a wide and diverse range of expectations of the People who espouse
dedication to honest, transparent government and respect for each person’s human dignity while being
capable of clamoring for action driven by mortal hatred.
So, what can we take from the Earth Charter? These phrases help direct my moral compass:

  • We are citizens of different nations and of one world… Everyone shares responsibility for the well-
    being of the human family and the larger living world.
  • Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace [with] mutual understanding, solidarity, and
    cooperation among all peoples.
  • Implement comprehensive strategies to prevent violent conflict; use collaborative problem solving.
  • Recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons,
    other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.
Earth Charter