Acts of Courage Against Torture

We will never know the names of so many of the CIA officers who spoke out against torture. They were among the brave men and women throughout the government who challenged the brutality approved at the highest levels of government, and they are responsible for bringing to light what so many wanted to keep in the shadows.

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So far, though, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not those who rejected it.

By refusing to acknowledge the courage of those who said "no" to torture, we betray the public servants who risked so much to reverse what they knew was a disastrous and shameful course. Honoring these people would encourage the best in our public servants, now and in the future.

Take Action: Tell President Obama to Honor Those Who Said No To Torture

Some of these courageous individuals tell their stories in the videos below.

 

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora

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In December 2002, Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora was alerted by the director of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service to allegations of cruel and unlawful interrogation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Shortly into his subsequent inquiry, he discovered Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had approved a request from military generals to use harsh and abusive interrogation techniques, based upon a legal memo sanctioning the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment on Guantánamo detainees. Mora was shocked that the techniques had been authorized because they could, as he would write, "rise to the level of torture." He repeatedly confronted senior Pentagon officials with his concerns, but his efforts were rebuffed, and eventually Pentagon officials simply circumvented him. In July 2004, he wrote a 22-page memo to a Pentagon official documenting his persistent attempts to convince the administration to change course.

 

Col. Morris Davis

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A 25-year veteran of the Air Force, Col. Morris Davis served as Chief Prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay from 2005 to 2007. As prosecutor, Davis tried to institute a policy prohibiting the use of evidence obtained through torture, but he wrote later that he was overruled. When DOD General Counsel William Haynes became Davis' direct supervisor in 2007, Davis resigned, saying, "The guy who said waterboarding is A-OK I was not going to take orders from. I quit." A few months later, Davis testified on behalf of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan, stating that top Pentagon officials had dictated to him what cases he could prosecute and what evidence to use, and that they had told him that acquittals were prohibited. In 2009, Davis was fired from his position at the Congressional Research Service after writing opinion pieces concerning his views on the military commissions.

 

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld

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In 2007, Darrel Vandeveld, a decorated infantry officer and prosecutor for the military commissions, was assigned to prosecute Guantánamo detainee Mohammed Jawad. Captured by U.S. forces as a teenager, Jawad was held and tortured at Bagram and Guantánamo before he faced military trial. While gathering evidence against the detainee, Vandeveld uncovered, in his words, "a confession obtained through torture, two suicide attempts by the accused, abusive interrogations, the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the defense, judicial incompetence, and ugly attempts to cover up the failures of an irretrievably broken system." Vandeveld resigned from the military commissions in 2008. He later filed an affidavit in support of Jawad's petition for habeas corpus, referring to himself as the detainee's "former prosecutor and now-repentant persecutor." Shortly after removing himself from Jawad's case, Vandeveld was given a negative performance evaluation, barred from the prosecutors' office, confined to his residence, forced to undergo mental health evaluation, and threatened with dismissal from the military.

 

Tony Camerino

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When Tony Camerino arrived in Iraq in 2006 as a senior interrogator, his experience as an Air Force counterintelligence agent did not prepare him for the abusive interrogation tactics that he witnessed. As Camerino describes it, the interrogators he worked with "were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules – and often break them." The practices Camerino witnessed in Iraq led him to speak out and take action "both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn't work." Camerino prohibited the use of any unlawful interrogation methods in the more than 1,300 interrogations he conducted or supervised while in Iraq. He taught his team of investigators techniques "based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information."

 

Ali Soufan

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During his eight years as an FBI agent and interrogator, Ali Soufan was deeply involved in dozens of interrogations in high profile terrorism investigations around the world. In 2002, his expertise interrogating members of al Qaeda led him to a CIA black-site in Thailand. There, Soufan and an FBI colleague conducted the first interrogations of Abu Zubaydah. These interrogations elicited "important actionable intelligence" concerning Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and Jose Padilla that the CIA would later claim it obtained by using its so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding.  When the CIA's interrogators began subjecting Abu Zubaydah to increasingly cruel and untested treatment such as forced nudity and sleep deprivation, Soufan was horrified. He reported the torture to his superiors in the FBI and was pulled out of the interrogations. Testifying before Congress in 2009, Soufan argued that the CIA's methods were "harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective, and play directly into the enemy's handbook."

 

Lieutenant Colonel V. Stuart Couch

Lieutenant Colonel V. Stuart Couch

In 2003, Couch, a veteran military prosecutor, was assigned to prosecute the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Couch learned that Slahi had been put under a "special project" interrogation plan , but he was refused information concerning the conduct of the interrogations. From an informal investigation of Slahi's interrogations, Couch discovered that Slahi was being subjected to psychological torture. A few days later, Couch removed himself from Slahi's case. In 2007, William Haynes, the general counsel of the Defense Department, blocked Couch from testifying before a House Judiciary subcommittee about the legality of torture and other interrogation techniques.

 

Major General Antonio Taguba

Major General Antonio Taguba

Thirty-two years into his military career, Major General Antonio Taguba was assigned to investigate and report on allegations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. His findings, detailed in what is known as the Taguba Report, revealed what he described as systemic "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" by American soldiers. When he took on the investigation, Taguba said that he knew he was putting his career at risk. In January 2006, he received a call from the Army's vice-chief of staff instructing him to retire by January of 2007. As he told the New Yorker in 2007, "I know that my peers in the Army will be mad at me for speaking out, but the fact is that we violated the laws of land warfare in Abu Ghraib. We violated the tenets of the Geneva Convention. We violated our own principles and we violated the core of our military values."

 

Sergeant Joe Darby

A few months after beginning his service as a military police officer at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Sergeant Joe Darby discovered photos of prisoners being tortured by members of his company. Darby chose to risk his own safety to report the abuses to the Army's Criminal Investigative Command. When he arrived back in the United States, Darby and his wife were placed in military protective custody as a result of the harassment and threats they received, including from friends and family. Darby's actions led to the publication of the photos by the New Yorker and CBS 60 Minutes and the conviction and imprisonment of members of his company involved in the abuse.

 

Former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson

A 30-year veteran of the agency, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson was alerted to alleged abuses at the CIA's secret black sites in 2003. He launched an investigation, and in May 2004, produced a report detailing the CIA's torture techniques, including its use of unauthorized practices. Helgerson concluded that the CIA faced "potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges" as a result of its interrogation practices. The report, two different redacted versions of which were released to the public as a result of ACLU litigation, has been highly influential in shedding light on the Bush administration's use of torture. In response, CIA director Michael Hayden directed an unprecedented internal investigation into Helgerson, threatening the independence of the Inspector's office.

 

Related:

America's real patriots fought to expose and end torture (LA Times op-ed)
Unsung Heroes (New York Times editorial)
Honoring those who stood against torture (Los Angeles Times editorial)
Honor those who said no to torture (Chicago Sun-Times editorial)
Honoring Those Who Said No (New York Times op-ed)
Honor Courage (Letter from human and civil rights organizations to President Obama)

Click here for more on securing accountability for torture>>

 

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