Is it ever justified to blow a CIA operative’s cover? We speak with human rights attorney Jennifer Harbury–her husband was a Mayan leader who was killed by a CIA asset in Guatemala. [includes rush transcript]
Republicans are defending Karl Rove, one of the people involved in the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Karl Rove is one of the most powerful officials in the Bush administration. Ironically it was under another Bush administration–the Reagan/Bush administration–that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act was first passed. This act imposes strict penalties on the outing of covert CIA agents. And it is the Democrats who are insisting that this law be enforced. But there is another side to all of this that has been left out of the discussion. And that is, human rights activists and torture victims have, for years, been harshly critically of the CIA’s human rights abuses in among other places, Latin American. And they have called for CIA agents and operatives who have committed crimes to be publicly identified in order to bring them to justice and shed light on CIA support of criminal activity.
Jennifer Harbury is one of these people. Her husband was a Mayan guerilla leader in Guatemala who was killed by a CIA operative.
- Jennifer Harbury, director of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s Stop Torture Permanently campaign. She is a human rights lawyer, author of "Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War & the CIA in Guatemala" and the forthcoming "Truth, Torture and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture"
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Harbury joins us right now in a studio from Boston. Jennifer is a Harvard-trained attorney who has for years spoken out on issues of C.I.A. abuse. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jennifer.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the side that we rarely see represented right now?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Yes, I think people are overlooking the fact that the C.I.A., for decades across Latin America, continuing now with the abuse and torture of the detainees around the world, have been involved in just outright disappearances, extreme use of torture, and eventual extra-judicial executions, even, of persons they consider undesirable or persons from whom they wish to extract information. Certainly, my husband was one case. He was a Mayan resistance leader, as you said, who was tortured in Guatemala in a secret cell for more than two years. Among other things, he was injected with a toxic gas that caused his body to swell until and arm and leg hemorrhaged. He was placed in a full body cast and then either dismembered or thrown from a helicopter. And it turned out that the high level intelligence people in Guatemala who were carrying out that torture during those two years were, in fact, on C.I.A. payroll as informants. So we have ourselves in the posture of the man who hires a hit person to kill his wife in order to obtain the insurance. These are outright crimes. And I think that to the extent that C.I.A. agents anywhere actually aid and abet criminal activity, they should not be shielded at all. It would be much more akin to the F.B.I. agents that work closely with the Mafia in Boston. I think that’s where the line must be drawn.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this view? I mean, you have Sister Diana Ortiz in Washington with torture survivors who are speaking out on this issue. It’s one we rarely get in the mainstream media, and how the whole Plame story has played out.
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, I think we have to remember that there is a sharp divide between whistleblowing activities, where the person is actually trying to expose government wrongdoing, which is, of course, what Mrs. Plame’s husband was trying to accomplish. He didn’t want to see us go into Iraq on false premises. And, in fact, of course, now we have thousands of young men and women from our own country risking their lives and perishing in Iraq on false premises, a war that should not have been started. On the other hand, we have C.I.A. operatives actually engaging in illegal activities which are prohibited by the laws and treaties of our own country, and they’re being shielded. They’re even being shielded for ongoing and very violent criminal acts, such as torture and murder. And I think those people cannot be shielded. Whistleblowers must be shielded. Those who are aiding and abetting murder cannot be shielded. I think the divide is very clear.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Harbury is author of the book, Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala, Everardo having been her husband. Her forthcoming book is called Truth, Torture and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture. And what is your response to those who say if you expose those on the C.I.A. payroll, you’re endangering them?
JENNIFER HARBURY: I think that persons who actually commit illegal acts in violation of the scope of authority granted the C.I.A. by the United States Congress, people who blatantly run off with an agency basically creating a rogue agency beyond the checks and balances established by our Constitution, I think if people are running away with part of our government, that they cannot deserve secrecy. I think that anyone carrying out, within the legal ambit, intelligence gathering services deserve privacy and secrecy. If they’re going to risk their lives we should be protecting them. I think the fact that Ms. Plame was outed, her career destroyed and that she may have her life endangered is very shocking when you think that was in order to silence people who were trying to get the truth to the American public, as the public was weighing the propriety of going to war against Iraq. I think that’s very shocking. That’s exactly what the whistleblower protections were created to prevent, exactly that situation. We’re supposed to know what our government is doing. There’s supposed to be transparency. And when people are secretly violating different laws and statutes or engaging in corruption, we’re supposed to reward whistleblowers, not punish them.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Harbury, you took a case against the U.S. government to the Supreme Court. You fasted endlessly in both Guatemala and the United States to find out what had happened to your husband. Can you talk about what happened in taking on the U.S. government, how ultimately, you found out what happened to Everardo, what happened to your husband Ephraim Bamaca Velasquez?
JENNIFER HARBURY: Well, I first, of course, had been told by the Guatemalan military that he had shot himself in combat to avoid being captured alive. Six months later, a young prisoner of war for the first time was able to escape from a Guatemalan military base and explain to me that he had not been killed in combat, he was captured alive, that they had fabricated this story about his combat death in order to torture him long-term for his information. And in fact, they had doctors present — because of his great intelligence value, they had doctors present to make sure they didn’t accidentally kill him. They then opened the grave and found the body of a very different young man, a young soldier who had been killed as a decoy.
For the next two-and-a-half years, I carried out efforts with the O.A.S. I went to the United Nations. I went everywhere and got no results. No one was able to force the Guatemalan military or the U.S. State Department to carry out any serious actions. And the Embassy, the U.S. Embassy told me and also sent form letters repeatedly to concerned members all over Capitol Hill, representatives and senators, that there was no information at all about him.
After my third hunger strike, it was, of course, disclosed that the C.I.A. had known from the week of his capture that (a) he had been captured, (b) they were faking his death, and (c) they were torturing him. And that memo went straight to the State Department. We also found out that when I first started looking for him and was opening the grave with the State Department and embassy sending people to stand next to me, they knew he was still alive and that so were 350 other prisoners of war in Guatemalan military hands and, in fact, they also knew that he was in the hands of our own paid informants whom we could have, of course, pulled into line. In other words, at that point in time, we could have saved 350 lives, including my husband’s. During all of my efforts they continued to tell me and to tell the United States Congress and Amnesty, etc., etc., that there was no information.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer, we just have 15 seconds.
JENNIFER HARBURY: So, I guess I would just want to close with the fact that our C.I.A. officers are very often throughout Latin America and now in the Middle East very involved in torture and murder. That cannot be covered up. Whereas those who are trying to disclose the truth and keep our government transparent and prevent illegal actions, they should be protected under the whistleblower acts.
AMY GOODMAN: Jennifer Harbury, I want to thank you for being with us, Director of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee’s Stop Torture Permanently campaign, author of the forthcoming book, Truth, Torture and the American Way: The History and Consequences of U.S. Involvement in Torture.