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Editorial: Honor those who said no to torture

Sgt. Joe Darby

Sgt. Joe Darby

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Updated: July 24, 2011 2:24AM

When, during the Bush administration, our nation went off course, torturing prisoners in the name of the war on terror, any number of principled soldiers and public servants refused to go along.

They would not waterboard.

They would not condone any euphemistically labeled “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

They would not seek convictions based on evidence obtained by torture.

At great risk to their careers, they chose instead to stay true to our nation’s fundamental ideals.

Now a coalition of civil liberties groups, led by the ACLU and the PEN American Center, have made an excellent proposal:

President Barack Obama should single out for high honors those high-minded men and women who said no.

“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,” the ACLU, PEN and eight other groups wrote in a June 16 letter to the president. “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.”

Not long ago, Paul McCartney was honored at the White House for his contributions to American music. That made for a pretty good rock show on public television. Imagine how much better a show it would be were the president to honor:

◆ Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, a Marine pilot, prosecutor and evangelical Christian who refused to seek a conviction based on statements obtained through torture. Such abuse, he said, violated basic religious precepts of the dignity of every human being.

◆ Sgt. Joe Darby, the former Army reservist who blew the whistle on the inhumane treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. When he discovered photos of members of his company torturing prisoners, Darby burned them onto a CD and delivered it with an anonymous letter to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command.

◆ Former CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, who documented abuses that had taken place in CIA prisons, questioned the legality of the policies that had led to the abuse and called some of the agency’s actions “inhumane.”

In 2004, President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to George J. Tenet, the former CIA director who had signed off on the use of torture.

That sent Americans one message.

Obama should award the same medal to men and women of the caliber of Couch, Darby and Helgerson, who refused to sign off on anything that did not abide by our nation’s bedrock ideals.

That would send a different message.

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