Will the president honor brave forgotten heroes?
How many Americans remember Sgt. Joseph Darby, the soldier, who while serving in Iraq, revealed photographs showing other members of his company torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib? As a result, he and his family received death threats, apparently from supporters of the Bush-Cheney torture policy. This policy was revealed to Americans and the world suddenly because of Darby's whistle-blowing. Despite the threats, he has said that he doesn't regret turning in those photographs to authorities.
There was also, as I have reported, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor of the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. He publicly insisted, before ultimately resigning in protest in 2007, that he would not allow introduction of evidence extracted from waterboarding.
They were not alone. As Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU, and Larry Siems, head of PEN American Center's Freedom to Write Program, reveal in "Honoring Those Who Said No" (New York Times, April 27):
"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."
And unconstitutional. Also, there were FBI agents in the field who came upon tortures inflicted by CIA agents and Special Forces officers on suspects. Alarmed, these agents notified FBI Director Robert Mueller. This and more is documented from official government content that the ACLU has obtained.
The truth about these war crimes against our laws and our treaties is covered in "Administration of Torture" (Columbia University Press, 2009), by the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh. A book that will be a permanent resource for future historians of this country -- although it is utterly ignored by President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Confronting President Obama directly with his often-stated refusal "to look backward," a letter was sent to the White House on June 16, signed by the ACLU, Amnesty International (USA), Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Open Society Foundations, PEN American Center, Physicians for Human Rights and John Whitehead's The Rutherford Institute.
Their letter reminded President Obama that during his remarks at the National Archives in May 2009, he actually said that "all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight" -- and "during this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists and citizens -- fell silent."
As silent as the president is now.
Then came this starkly unwelcome challenge to our commander of the rule of law: "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."
After all, as ACLU spokesman Josh Bell reminded me, President Obama, speaking at the National Archives, said of waterboarding and other such interrogation methods:
"They did not advance our war and counterterrorism -- they undermined them."
So now, President Obama, how can you not -- addressing We the People and the world -- publicly honor these brave, forgotten patriots who insisted, and still do, on fighting for the values that distinguish Americans from much of the rest of the world?
If Obama has the guts to bring these contemporary Minutemen out of the shadows, this letter to him by the ACLU, et al., emphasizes that:
"Recognizing those who opposed the violation of the most fundamental humane treatment standards would send a message to current government personnel across all agencies that they have a personal responsibility to ensure that torture prohibitions are upheld."
With the 2012 elections getting ever closer, I do not expect Democrats in office, or striving to get there, to urge their leader to break his silence. This should, however, be a stirringly patriotic opportunity for Republicans to awaken national consciousness to such full-fledged Americans as a military lawyer I came to know, who was representing a Guantanamo Bay prisoner about to go before a military commission.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift was assigned by Department of Defense as defense counsel at Guantanamo Bay for Salim Ahmed Hamdan (a former driver for Osama bin Laden). When he first entered his client's cell, Swift told me Hamdan said: "What are you doing here? There's no justice here."
In response, Swift brought the case of Hamdan -- charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism -- all the way to the Supreme Court, w hich ruled in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) that the military commission trying Hamdan indeed violated the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions, which this country's leaders signed in 1949.
Swift was eligible, in any case, for promotion but was twice turned down under the "up or out" military promotion system that commands retirement for officers passed over twice. Charles Swift told me he learned of his involuntary retirement two weeks after Hamdan was cleared by our highest court.
President Obama, how about belatedly recommending that the National Constitution Center confer on Swift his much deserved Liberty Medal?
That would surely be a confirmation to the world of what American values truly are. If you won't, what are your values? It's time we know them.
Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.