The Courage To Speak Out Against Torture

June 27, 2011

Yesterday was the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

In many ways, fighting against the use of torture around the world has been Amnesty’s signature issue over the past 50 years. In that time we have tried to shine a light both on the victims of torture and its perpetrators.

However, there is one group that has often been overlooked: Those rare individuals who display the courage to stand up against those who would use torture, regardless the cost to themselves.

Individuals like Military Policeman Joe Darby, who blew the whistle on the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib by referring pictures taken by Charles Graner to the US Army’s Criminal Investigations Division (CID):

“I’ve always had a moral sense of right and wrong. And I knew that you know, friends or not, it had to stop.”

Darby continued to serve alongside Graner and the other members of unit in Iraq while the CID investigation unfolded. Everyone on the base, including Graner and his cohorts, was armed and Darby feared for his life sleeping with a cocked pistol under his pillow.

Darby’s name remained secret until Donald Rumsfeld outed him without warning at a DoD press conference. Darby’s commanders were afraid that he would be targeted by other soldiers and immediately transferred him back to the United States.

Stateside Darby couldn’t go home. All the members of his National Guard unit came from the same small town in Cumberland, Maryland, where public sympathies lay firmly on the side of Graner and his co-defendants. He had to live with bodyguards for more than six months. He ultimately lost both his career in the military and his home.

In an on-camera exchange with CNN’s Anderson Cooper in 2006, Cooper asked Darby if he would do it all again:

“Yes. They broke the law and they had to be punished.”

“And it’s that simple?”

“It’s that simple.”

To mark Torture Awareness Month, Amnesty has joined with a coalition of other human rights organizations including the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, to call on President Obama to honor those individuals who have taken a stand against torture in the United States.

Men like Joe Darby, and former General Counsel of the Navy Alberto Mora, risked everything to do the right thing and protect our country from its darkest impulses. Such men are a national treasure and we all owe them a debt of gratitude.

President Obama took an important step on the first day of his Presidency by banning the use of interrogation methods outside those proscribed in the Army Field Manual on Interrogation. But since then he has been awfully quiet on this issue.

By rewarding principled service and praising those who made a stand against evil, President Obama can strike another important blow against torture and make a profound comment about what we as a people chose to hold most dear: moral courage and a life well lived.