Torture Whistleblowers Commended

By D.H. Kerby

President Jimmy Carter and a host of distinguished Americans, many who have served at the highest levels of government, have signed a letter of commendation for current and former military officers who refused to cooperate with the Bush torture program and spoke out against it at great personal risk to their careers and sometimes to their lives. Many ordinary Americans have signed the letter as well; the number of signatures totals 15,000.

How did these men come to the realization that what they were involved in, or about to become involved in, was morally impermissible? Although he is not cited in the letter, Sgt. Sam Provance, who manned a top secret computer network at Abu Ghraib, is just the sort of military whistleblower who is honored in the letter, and Common Cause (, which organized the effort to honor these men, intends to honor him as well.

According to Provance, he first became aware that something was very wrong at the military prison listening to what “Tiger Team” had to say. These were military interrogators and analysts with whom Provance came in contact in the course of his duties.

From them, he heard accounts of forced nakedness, and stories about the use of dogs. Many segments of a sound file containing a nine-minute and 30-second interview with Provance were mysteriously erased; immediately after the interview the recording had been complete. In the deleted portion of the interview he had discussed being stripped of his security clearance after speaking out against torture and talked about his successful struggle to have it reinstated, and also described detainees being forced to wear women’s clothes.

Joe Darby, the military police officer who first turned in the photographs of prisoner torture at Abu Ghraib, slept with a pistol under his pillow in the weeks after his deed, before the suspects in the torture were removed from the prison. When he finally returned to the US the military he served told him he was not safe at his home, that he couldn’t go home, that he might never be able to go home, according to CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Common Cause has tried to locate Darby, but to no avail. After playing the central role he played in exposing Abu Ghraib, Darby told 60 Minutes in June 2007 he doesn’t want to say where he lives or what he does for a living.

The former general counsel of the Navy, Alberto J. Mora, was also cited in the letter because he would not go along with the Bush torture program. When he heard of allegations of detainee abuse, he persistently voiced his opposition at the highest levels of the Pentagon, writing a memo to the Defense Department’s general counsel.

It eventually became the subject of Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article, “The Memo: How an Internal Effort to Ban Abuse and Torture was Thwarted.” Ultimately, Mora’s memo did cause Donald Rumsfeld to rescind the December 2002 authorization of new, more aggressive interrogation techniques.

Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld was a prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions who resigned after he discovered that Mohammed Jawad, whom he was supposed to prosecute, had been tortured both at Bagram Air Force Base and at Guantanamo. Like many of the men who have resisted and spoken out, Vandeveld is very highly decorated, having been awarded the Bronze Star, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, a Joint Service Commendation Medal and two Joint Meritorious Service Awards.

Vandeveldt cites an encounter with the Jesuit priest and peace worker, Fr. John Dear, as very significant to his decision. “Quit Gitmo,” Father Dear said, advising Vandeveld not to cooperate with evil.

In addition to President Carter, the letter of commendation was signed by former congressmen Robert Barr and Lee Hamilton, as well as retired Brig. Gen. John H. Johns.

Brittain Mallow, Criminal Investigation Task Force Commander, refused to take part in the torture of detainees and ordered CITF investigators to refuse as well. He received the Army Distinguished Service Medal, and Deputy Commander Mark Fallon, who served in the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, also refused to engage in torture.

Stuart Couch, like Lt. Col. Vandeveld, was a military prosecutor who refused to go along with the prosecution of a detainee once he learned that the prisoner, a senior al-Qaeda operative named Mohamedou Slahi, had been tortured.

Steven Kleinman, a colonel in the Air Force and a career military interrogator, was threatened by members of a Special Operations Task Force that oversaw the military interrogation of high-value detainees in Iraq when he stopped interrogation sessions he considered to be violations of the Geneva Convention and after he stated his opinion that these sessions could be considered war crimes.

In ordinary life it would not be considered meritorious or unusually honorable or heroic behavior not to torture one’s fellow human being. It is a measure of the extraordinary depths to which our country sank during the years of the worst excesses of cruelty in the war on terror that, in that context, it was.

D.H. Kerby is a writer in Philadelphia. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2009

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