Profiles in Courage: A Gallery of US Heroes Who Said No to Torture

Great_Seal_of_the_United_States_(obverse).svgBy Elaine Magliaro

I just came across an interesting op-ed titled Saying No to Torture: A Gallery of US Heroes at Truthout. The op-ed was was written by Rebecca Gordon, the author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States (Oxford University Press). She teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. In her op-ed, Gordon wrote about six “heroes” who refused to torture people or who risked their careers in order to help inform the people of this country about what agents of our government were doing to detainees in their custody: Sergeant Joseph M. Darby, Major General Antonio M. Taguba, General Counsel to the Navy Alberto J. Mora, John Kiriakou, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, and an unnamed Navy nurse. Gordon said that  the nurse’s “identity is being withheld on the advice of his lawyers, because he still faces legal sanctions for his action.”

Here’s how Gordon begins her op-ed:

Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them.

Back in August 2014, Obama explained the urge of the top figures in the Bush administration to torture “some folks” this way: “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were when the twin towers fell.” So naturally, in those panicked days, the people in charge had little choice but to order the waterboarding, wall-slamming, and rectal rehydration of whatever possible terrorists(and innocents) the CIA got their hands on. That’s what fear drives you to do and don’t forget, at the time even some mainstream liberal columnists were calling for torture. And whatever you do, don’t forget as well that they were so, so afraid. That’s why, says the president, “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious,” too quick to judge the people in the Bush administration, the CIA, and even the U.S. military who planned, implemented, and justified torture.

Gordon noted that President “Obama insisted in 2009, and again at the end of 2014,” that “no one should be prosecuted for torture, because everyone was scared.”

Yet, while so many Americans were so afraid, there were individuals who had the courage of their consciences…who dared speak up or tried to do something to stop the torture of detainees. Gordon said that John Kiriakou and the unnamed Navy nurse “directly refused” to practice torture. Others risked their reputations and careers in order to help make the people of this country aware of what our government was doing.

Gordon on the “unnamed Navy nurse”:

The nurse’s attorney told NPR’s “All Things Considered”:

“He volunteered to go out to Guantánamo initially and then after he observed the way the practices were performed and he saw the ways in which the detainees were forcibly extracted from their cells and placed in five-point restraint chairs, and how they were fed with a tube through the nose into their stomach, and that the kinds of things that nurses would do — according to their professional responsibilities — those things were not done, he felt he could no longer participate in it.”

As a result of his refusal, the Navy sent him back to the States and threatened him with court martial and prison. That threat has been taken off the table, but the 18-year Navy veteran still faces possible involuntary discharge, and with it the loss of his pension, health care, and education benefits under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill. In spite of the risks, he stepped away.


Antonio M. Taguba

Major General Antonio M. Taguba

Alberto Mora

General Counsel to the Navy Alberto J. Mora

John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou

Stuart Couch

Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch

Joseph Darby

Sergeant Joseph Darby

Click here to read Saying No to Torture: A Gallery of US Heroes.

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, American History, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Government, Government Propaganda, Iraq, Presidents, Propaganda, Psychology, United States, US Military, War on "Terror" and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Profiles in Courage: A Gallery of US Heroes Who Said No to Torture

  1. eniobob says:


    “The primary example could be counter-terrorism. The Senate’s recent report on enhanced interrogation techniques makes current judgments on that dark era even harsher than they would have been otherwise. Torture is torture, and no passage of time will change the moral judgments on that.

    On the other hand, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Europeans began to ask why the attackers had not been kept under greater surveillance. If such terrorist attacks were to continue over many years, then judgments on the Bush-era surveillance programs might eventually come to be less harsh than they are today. Or they may come to be seen as the true beginning of a new surveillance state. More time needs to pass before historical judgments on this issue take shape.”

  2. Oro Lee says:

    God bless these six Patriots.

  3. Elaine M. says:

    Unbroken, CIA Torture Whistleblower Kiriakou To Finish Sentence Home with Family
    In final Letter from Loretto Prison, John Kiriakou writes: ‘By the time you read this, I’ll be home’

    John Kiriakou, the CIA agent who was jailed for blowing the whistle on the United States’ torture program, was released from Loretto Prison in Pennsylvania on Tuesday under orders to finish the remainder of his 30-month sentence at home.

    Though glad the whistleblower was finally able to return to his wife and five children, supporters said the development was bittersweet considering that Kiriakou has thus far been the only government official to be punished for U.S. torture.

    “John Kiriakou is a dedicated public servant who became a political prisoner because he brought to light one of the darkest chapters in American history: the CIA’s ineffective, immoral and illegal torture program,” said Jesselyn Radack, Kiriakou’s attorney and National Security and Human Rights director of the Government Accountability Project.

    “Considering that the last three heads of the CIA engaged in leaks of classified information without being charged under the Espionage Act and that no CIA official who ordered or participated in torture has been criminally punished,” Radack continued, “it is a welcome development that Kiriakou can serve the rest of his sentence at home with his family.”

  4. bigfatmike says:

    One has to wonder why being really afraid counts as a defense for criminal acts such as torture (according to our president) while being really afraid of the police state, the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the cover up of those crimes is not a defense for blowing the whistle?

  5. Anonymously Yours says:

    Good for these folks….

    I have a query, two shows I watch Blacklist and now Allegiance…. I wonder how true to life they are?

  6. Elaine M. says:

    Stop the C.I.A. Spin on the Senate Torture Report
    AUG. 5, 2014

    Yet I know from experience that oversight will help the C.I.A. — as it helped the United States military. Ten years ago, I was directed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior officer in Iraq, to investigate allegations of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. My report’s findings, which prompted a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, documented a systemic problem: military personnel had perpetrated “numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.”

    The findings, along with what became infamous images of abuse, caused a stir and led to prosecutions. The inquiry shed light on our country’s trip to the dark side, in which the United States government engaged in an assault on American ideals, broke the law and in so doing strengthened our enemies.

    What I found in my investigation offended my sense of decency as a human being, and my sense of honor as a soldier. I’d learned early about the necessity of treating prisoners humanely. My father, Tomas B. Taguba, a member of the joint American-Filipino force during World War II, was captured by the Japanese and endured the Bataan Death March.

    It was clear to me in 2004 that the United States military could not be the institution it needed to be as long as it engaged in and tolerated abuse.

    But the military’s path to accountability was a long one, and its leaders hardly welcomed oversight. A few months after I completed the investigation, I was reassigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, where I could be closely monitored. Then, in early 2006, I received a telephone call from Gen. Richard A. Cody, then the Army’s vice chief of staff, who said, “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” No explanation was given. But none was needed.

    I remain certain that by investigating inhumane treatment of detainees, I did my duty as a soldier, and that my inquiry — along with one in 2008 by the Senate Armed Services Committee — made the military a stronger, more trustworthy institution. As a result, interrogation and detention regulations were reformed and training programs were revised to comply with the Geneva Conventions.

  7. Elaine M. says:


    I haven’t seen either of those TV shows.

  8. Anonymously Yours says:


    Without too much ado…. They are about how or government works in clandestine arena….. If you have some time it would be entertaining.

  9. Inga says:

    Brave people, hope they won’t have to pay for this bravery for the rest of their lives. Whistleblowing often gets one retaliated against. I know this first hand as a nurse whistleblower. Our state healthcare worker whilsleblower anti retaliation law is not worth the paper it’s written on. Cases that get heard, get heard in front of an ALJ, pathetic. These people faced prison for their bravery, I just faced five years of appeals and frustration. However doing the right thing is something I’ll always be very proud of, I couldn’t have lived with myself otherwise.

  10. blouise says:

    “Though glad the whistleblower was finally able to return to his wife and five children, supporters said the development was bittersweet considering that Kiriakou has thus far been the only government official to be punished for U.S. torture.” – (From Stop the C.I.A. Spin on the Senate Torture Report)

    Pure and utter lunacy.

    And what BFM said

  11. AY,

    Might I make a viewing suggestion? If you have access of FX, “The Americans” (just starting its third season) is a far more compelling (and much better acted and written) show than the 1.5 episodes of “Allegiance” I managed to catch. Also considerably more realistic. I think you’d like it.

    “The Blacklist” though is just plain fun. Red is a fantastic anti-hero. “It tastes so delicious in my mouth I almost don’t want to say it but here it goes. I told you so.”

  12. bfm,

    As Orwell possibly once noted, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

  13. Elaine M. says:


    I posted an excerpt from the following article on one of my Jeffrey Sterlings threads earlier today. I’m going to post an excerpt from that excerpt here:

    Guilty Verdict for CIA Agent Called ‘New Low’ in War on Whistleblowers
    As case grounded ‘largely on circumstantial evidence’ results in guilty verdict, advocates for Jeffrey Sterling say government has gone too far

    Asked for her reaction to the Sterling’s conviction by FireDogLake’s Kevin Gosztola, Jesselyn Radack, a Justice Department whistleblower, attorney and director of the Government Accountability Project’s National Security and Human Rights Division, said the prosecution and conviction of Sterling represents “a new low in the war in whistleblowers and government hypocrisy.”

    Sterling, Radack continued, “was convicted in a purely circumstantial case of ‘leaking.’ It shows how far an embarrassed government will go to punish those who dare to commit the truth.”…

  14. amunre says:

    I spent part of my youth fighting in South Vietnam…what a let down that was…I was very idealistic I really believed it our country….that was my first experience with a gov. (ours) that was out of control and so full of lies and deceptions….when I came home nobody believed me…life went on but I never trusted my government again….then time after time I watch my gov fail again and again…God help me I dont think I ever despised anyone as my as I did George Bush…Then fool that I am I literally cried when Obama got elected I was sure he was going to make past mistakes right but nothing ever changes…..who would have thought we would still be having these debates about torture……God help us all

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