A small gesture can mean a lot. That is the simple but compelling idea animating a drive to gain official honors for the patriots, both civilian and in uniform, who stood up against the Bush administration’s immoral torture policies.
The idea of bestowing honors on these heroes was raised in an April 28 Op-Ed article in The Times by Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union and Larry Siems of the PEN American Center. They said that while senior Bush administration officials approved egregious interrogation and detention practices, including torture, there were dissenters throughout the government.
“Those who stayed true to our values and stood up against cruelty are worthy of a wide range of civilian and military commendations, up to and including the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” they wrote.
Worthy candidates include Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who waged a lonely battle to revoke Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s interrogation directive authorizing abuses at the Guantánamo Bay prison; and Antonio Taguba, the Army major general who says he was forced to retire after his frank report on the sadistic treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib. There are others.
This modest awards proposal has lately assumed a degree of urgency. After the killing of Osama bin Laden, some — like John Yoo, the Bush Justice Department lawyer who twisted the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions to excuse the inexcusable — argued that waterboarding and other abuses were both proper and necessary.
Ten leading civil liberties and human rights groups, including the A.C.L.U. and Human Rights First, have called on President Obama to honor all who bravely said no when the country veered off course. Recognizing them would not discharge Mr. Obama’s failed duty to find ways to further accountability. But it would be a start.