What Alberto Mora knows for sure

Illustration: Luke Wilson

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Alberto Mora, on Justice
Appointed general counsel of the U.S. Navy by President George W. Bush in 2001, Mora soon learned of abusive treatment of "unlawful combatants" at Guantánamo. Over the next few years, he fought what he saw as an attempt to legitimize torture in the war on terror by arguing to the government's senior military and political officials that "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" is not only immoral but illegal. Mora retired from the position in 2006.

Sometimes people fail to see that individual decisions have universal consequences.

At first it didn't cross my mind that [the mistreatment of detainees] could have been a deliberate policy. Some people in the administration who supported it were friends, colleagues, team members, people I respected. But as one professor put it, sometimes "good people do bad things for good reasons."

I felt the policies I believed in would be best for our country, but regardless of politics, my responsibilities were clear. I had to protect my client [the U.S. military and its commander in chief].

My mother, whose family fled the Communist regime in Hungary, would have killed me if I had not stood up against government brutality and cruelty. 

As told to Amanda Robb