Acts of Courage Against Torture

April 27, 2011
Read the ACLU/PEN American Center Op-Ed in the New York Times»

President Obama has disavowed torture, but he has been reluctant to examine the Bush administration’s abusive interrogation practices. By refusing to examine the past, we betray the public servants who risked so much to reverse what they knew was a disastrous and shameful course.

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Some of these courageous individuals include:

Sgt. Joe Darby is former Army Reservist best known as the Abu Ghraib whistleblower. Then 24-year-old Darby was serving in Iraq when he discovered a set of photographs showing other members of his company torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. The discovery anguished him, but ultimately he burned the photos onto a CD and delivered it with an anonymous letter to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command. Celebrated by some, and threatened with death by others, Darby has said that he “never regretted for one second” turning in the photographs.

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora led an effort inside the Department of Defense to oppose legal theories put forward by Justice Department lawyers that justified the use of coercive interrogation techniques. Mora argued that the techniques were ineffective and unlawful.

Col. Morris Davis, an Air Force officer and lawyer, was appointed to serve as the third Chief Prosecutor in the Guantánamo military commissions system. Col. Davis made clear that he would never permit the introduction of evidence extracted through waterboarding and insisted that the proceedings be transparent. Col. Davis resigned from his post in 2008.

Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, a veteran Marine pilot and prosecutor, volunteered to return to active duty to help achieve justice for a fellow Marine who had been co-pilot on the second plane that struck the World Trade Center. A self-identified evangelical Christian, Couch ultimately decided he could not seek a conviction based on statements obtained through torture, stating that the abuse violated basic religious precepts of the dignity of every human being.

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld was the lead prosecutor in the military commissions case against detainee Mohammed Jawad, who was a teenager when he was captured in Afghanistan. After learning about the abuse and torture that Jawad was subject to in custody, Vandeveld decided he could no longer continue with the case. He later filed an affidavit in support of the child prisoner’s case, referring to himself as Jawad's “former prosecutor and now-repentant persecutor.”

Former CIA Inspector General John Helgersen wrote a meticulously researched report documenting some of the abuses that had taken place in CIA prisons, questioning the legality of the policies that had led to the abuse, and characterizing some of the agency’s activities as inhumane.

So far, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not the courageous men and women who rejected it. For example:

George J. Tenet, former CIA director who signed off on torture was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by President Bush.

MG Geoffrey D. Miller, a retired United States Army Major General who oversaw the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-valorous military and civilian decoration of the United States military.

Steven Bradbury, a former Justice Department lawyer responsible for some of the infamous “torture memos” received awards from the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency.

Top officials of the Bush Administration approved the torture of prisoners, but brave men and women throughout the military and the government challenged the policies, called out abuses, and worked to end the use of coerced evidence. These courageous individuals should be honored for their integrity and their commitment to real American values.

ACT NOW: Ask President Obama to Honor Those Who Said "No" to Torture»

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