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ACLU to Obama: Honor Those Who Said 'No' to Torture

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June 16, 2011

Today, we sent a letter to the White House asking President Obama to formally honor the soldiers and public servants who opposed torture under the Bush administration.

Although senior Bush administration officials approved the torture of prisoners, there was dissent in every federal agency, and at every level. As observed in an ACLU/PEN American Center op-ed published by The New York Times recently, brave men and women throughout the military and the government challenged the Bush administration’s policies, called out abuses, and refused to participate in a torture program that they believed was illegal and immoral. But so far, our official history has honored only those who approved torture, not those who rejected it.

The letter, which was co-signed by a handful of other human rights organizations and was sent in advance of International Day in Support of Victims of Torture states in part:

We are writing to you now to urge you formally to honor the soldiers and public servants who, when our nation went off course, stayed true to our nation’s most fundamental ideals. Honoring these brave men and women would be important in any circumstances, but it is especially crucial now because some have used your administration’s success in locating Osama bin Laden to reopen the debate about torture and to propose that the United States should once again adopt torture as a method of gathering intelligence. Formally commending those who rejected torture would send a necessary message that torture is — and will always be — inconsistent with who we are as a nation.

The Bush administration, in addition to authorizing torture, formally honored some of the officials most associated with the torture policies. 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 former President George W. Bush. 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.

Join the ACLU in asking President Obama to affirm that the true representatives of American values are not those who endorsed torture, but the brave men and women who tried to stop it — take action now!

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