That’s a standard saying among animal trainers and management consultants, frequently used to point out that every instance of ‘rewarding’ bad behavior (by inattention or favoritism or an unwillingness to admit imperfection) negates hours of half-hearted positive reinforcement and/or lip service about mandating quality at every level. It was my first affirmative thought in response Jameel Jaffers’s and Larry Siem’s NYTimes op-ed on “Honoring Those Who Said No“:
… Throughout the military, and throughout the government, brave men and women reported abuse, challenged interrogation directives that permitted abuse, and refused to participate in an interrogation and detention program that they believed to be unwise, unlawful and immoral. The Bush administration’s most senior officials expressly approved the torture of prisoners, but there was dissent in every agency, and at every level.
There are many things the Obama administration could do to repair some of the damage done by the last administration, but among the simplest and most urgent is this: It could recognize and honor the public servants who rejected torture…
Thus far, though, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not those who rejected it. In December 2004, as the leadership of the C.I.A. was debating whether to destroy videotapes of prisoners being waterboarded in the agency’s secret prisons, President Bush bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director who had signed off on the torture sessions. In 2006, the Army major general who oversaw the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo was given the Distinguished Service Medal. One of the lawyers responsible for the Bush administration’s “torture memos” received awards from the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency.
President Obama has disavowed torture, but he has been unenthusiastic about examining the last administration’s interrogation policies. He has said the country should look to the future rather than the past. But averting our eyes from recent history means not only that we fail in our legal and moral duty to provide redress to victims of torture, but also that we betray the public servants who risked so much to reverse what they knew was a disastrous and shameful course.
Those who stayed true to our values and stood up against cruelty are worthy of a wide range of civilian and military commendations, up to and including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Honoring them is a way of encouraging the best in our public servants, now and in the future. It is also a way of honoring the best in ourselves.