Stolen Valor, Stolen Twice

By | July 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

Some time ago, I was in a bookstore – remember them? I saw a book titled “Stolen Valor” by B. G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. The title intrigued me, but the subject matter depressed and angered me. The authors detailed how politicians and others falsely claim to be veterans, and even to have been decorated for valor. I found it to be revolting that people would lie about such a deeply significant subject.
The book awakened similar feelings in many Americans. The result was that in 2006 Congress passed, and President Bush signed, the Stolen Valor Act, which criminalized falsely claiming to be a veteran or to have been decorated for valor. Regrettably, the story doesn’t end there. The law was thrown out, in effect validating the theft of valor.
The Supreme Court’s upholding ObamaCare monopolized the news, but the court did overturn one law – the Stolen Valor Act. I am unable to find the slightest trace of logic or consistency here. Uphold as a legitimate exercise of constitutional power a 2700-page, incomprehensible monstrosity that affects the health care of all 314 million Americans in multiple but unforeseeable ways? But at the same time, overturn as unconstitutional a brief law against lying about having received a government award?
According to the Supreme Court, the government has the power to make life-and-death health-care decisions for us and our loved ones. But the government does not have the power to penalize those who lie about government service. The government has the power to fine (“tax”) me if I do not buy approved health insurance – that is, if I do nothing. But the government does not have the power to fine me if I falsely claim to be a recipient of the Medal of Honor. To me, this makes no sense, either intellectually or morally. It further erodes whatever faith I had in our legal system.
The court’s purported reason was that the act was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. The justices declared that the government could not criminalize lying. Really? Try lying in court or in a deposition – that’s called perjury. Or try lying on your tax return, or on an application for a loan or a government job. But, you object, that’s lying under oath. Clearly that should be illegal.
But lying not under oath is a different matter, you say. That’s not illegal, is it? Yes, it is. If you doubt this, ask Martha Stewart and “Scooter” Libby.
Martha Stewart was suspected of insider trading, when she sold stock just before it fell in value. After an extensive investigation, the Justice Department could not find sufficient evidence to charge her with insider trading. That is, there was insufficient evidence that a crime had been committed in the first place.
Nevertheless, Martha Stewart was charged with lying to federal officers, which is a crime – even though it is not under oath, and even if there is no proof that an underlying crime had been committed. The feds offered Stewart’s stockbroker a plea bargain if he testified against her. How does this differ from obtaining a confession under torture?
In any case, the stockbroker contradicted Stewart’s statements. The prosecution convinced the jury to believe him rather than Stewart, so she was convicted of lying to federal officers and sent to prison. Later, the gutsy lady was able to reconstruct her life, at least to a degree.
Lewis “Scooter” Libby was chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. A scandal developed, incited by the mainstream media, about the “outing” of CIA employee Valerie Plame. A special prosecutor was appointed. It turned out that (1) Plame had not been an undercover agent for years, and (2) anti-Bush State Department official Richard Armitage proved to be the leaker. The special prosecutor knew this.
That is, as in the Martha Stewart case, there was insufficient evidence that a crime had been committed in the first place. But unlike the Stewart case, even if there were a crime, it was clear that someone else had committed it. But the special prosecutor had achieved notoriety and spent millions of taxpayers’ money. He had to justify his activities. So he charged Libby with lying to federal officers.
In many hours of questioning, Libby had contradicted the testimony of media personality Tim Russert. This might mean (1) Libby was lying, or (2) Russert was lying, or (3) they both were lying, or (4) they simply recalled things differently. A reasonable person, especially one who was familiar with the vagaries of memory and the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, would accept number (4), go home and have a beer.
Naturally, the politically astute special prosecutor concluded that Libby was lying. He convinced the jury, which convicted Libby. Libby was spared a prison sentence when President Bush commuted his sentence, but did not pardon him. Like Stewart, Libby will remain a convicted felon for the rest of his life, unable to hold a government job, get a security clearance, be bonded, touch a firearm, or (depending on state law) vote. He was also disbarred. Unlike Stewart, he has disappeared from view.
So yes, lying is a crime under some circumstances, even if what you are lying about was not a crime in itself. It all depends on what you think is important. The Supreme Court believes that lying about military service or about being decorated for valor is not important, but lying on an application for a loan or a government job is important.
As the favorable editorial in the Los Angeles Times noted, the liars did not get money for lying. Many liberals are materialists, so they see economics as the most important factor in nearly everything. But there are other important factors:
● What about compassion and gratitude? Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other service-related disabilities that are not as obvious as an amputation. Now people will tell them, “You’re probably lying, just like those other guys.” Talk about adding insult to injury.
For many people, compassion is defined as voting Democratic, not as showing compassion to actual, living human beings. And for many people, gratitude is a foreign concept. Being narcissists, they feel themselves entitled to everything, so they see no reason to be grateful for anything.
● What about honor and esteem? For many people, including the Los Angeles Times editorial board, everything important can be denominated in dollars. On the contrary, a strong argument can be made that the most important things can’t be. Granted, money is the only way we have to compensate people who have been wronged. But that does not mean that if the wrong can’t be defined in dollars, it isn’t wrong.
For many people, “your honor” is not something you strive for all your life, but merely a title for judges. And for many people, esteem is not something you give others who earned it with their blood and sweat, but merely something you give yourself just for breathing, without having earned it.
The Supreme Court’s decision upholding nationalized health care will affect us in ways that will be all too obvious. The decision overturning the Stolen Valor Act will affect us in ways that will be more subtle, but in the end may be even more profound. People who do not respect and defend the honor of those who risk everything to preserve their freedom will not survive as free people, and may not survive at all.
Steal valor once, shame on them. Steal valor twice, shame on us.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.

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