Writer/Attorney Jennifer Harbury Comments on the CIA
By Nick Braune
This week I interviewed Jennifer Harbury, an attorney in Weslaco who has
published three books. Her most famous, Searching for Everardo, details
her long, difficult, effort to locate her husband who had participated in political
and military struggles for freedom in Central America. Now a nationally known
figure in the fight against torture, Harbury has another book out: Truth,
Torture and the American Way, published by Beacon Press.
Braune: I know that your husband was a prisoner of
war in Guatemala and was suddenly “disappeared” and was later found to have
been tortured in complete disregard of the Geneva Agreements. And your
subsequent investigation revealed how the CIA had funneled tons of money to
the unprincipled Guatemalan military responsible for the disappearance and
torture of not only your husband, but many people. Given your expertise
in this area, I’m eager to ask a question:
The new “Integrated Global Knowledge” (IGKNU) center at U.T. Pan American,
which is trying to recruit Hispanic students to join agencies like the CIA,
recently cosponsored an “Ethics and Intelligence Conference” to legitimize
itself among the academics. I joined students from MEChA three weeks
ago publicly protesting IGKNU. What would you tell Pan Am students
who might think it is “patriotic” to join the CIA?
Harbury: I would commend the students for their wish to
be of service, but would tell them they are knocking on the wrong door. Here
is the reason: In fact, my husband was severely tortured for three years (1992-1994)
in a secret cell in Guatemala by military intelligence specialists who were
also working as paid CIA informants. The CIA knew where he was and what was
happening to him within a week of his capture, and they continued to receive
information about his plight during the three years he remained alive. In return
they continued to send money and ask for more information, even though they
knew this would result in further torture.
Yet when members of Congress repeatedly demanded information in order to
assist me, the CIA falsely responded that there was no information. In the
end he was either thrown from a helicopter or dismembered. Three hundred other
secret prisoners were also killed during this period. We could have saved them,
but the CIA blocked our rescue efforts.
We received the CIA’s files on the case after my husband’s murder. They revealed
many of the torture techniques that the CIA is using today in Iraq and Afghanistan,
such as water-boarding and stress and duress positions. These techniques are
of course completely illegal, and do indeed violate the Geneva Conventions.
Worse yet, they dishonor and endanger our great troops. When the CIA declares
that its agents may lawfully water-board a detainee, then of course the same
“lawful techniques” will be used on our own soldiers when they fall prisoner.
How patriotic is this?
Braune: The Bush administration made it seem that the Geneva
Conventions are irrelevant. In your speaking engagements, what
do you tell audiences about the Geneva Agreements?
Harbury: The Geneva Convention on the rights of prisoners
of war does indeed limit itself to members of a formal army who wear uniforms,
etc. Some of the current detainees may not be eligible for those protections.
However, the Bush administration failed to mention the Geneva Convention on
the rights of civilians, which includes everyone who is not a soldier in a
formal army. It expressly includes saboteurs and persons who carry out deadly
acts against an occupying power. Obviously this would cover most of the people
fighting against us in Iraq today. Can they be arrested and imprisoned? Of
course, so long as they are given a fair trial. Can they be tortured? Of course
not. Is this a naïve situation? No. It is exactly the same as the legal
framework we have used here in the U.S. for two hundred years, and which worked
properly in the case of American terrorists like Timothy McVeigh.
Braune: I know it is hard to guess how the new administration
will turn out, but do you think a Democratic administration will improve things
as far as human rights and opposition to torture goes?
Harbury: The CIA has been using unlawful methods like torture
since its founding half a century ago. When human rights oriented Presidents
or Members of Congress have disagreed with them, they have simply kept the
matters secret from them. In short, we have a rogue agency. This does not work
with our system of checks and balances here in the United States.
Braune: Thank you, counselor, for your time today and your
years of work against torture.
Calendar note: Harbury has been invited to speak at the Valley-wide
Peace and Justice Gathering on February 7th.