“Where is Richard Brown when we really need him?”
The story of a young Foreign Service officer who risked his budding career to defend a principle and the honor of the United States
Intro: In the fall of 1974, I was being tortured by members of the Brazilian army in Recife, Brazil, led by officers who bragged about having been trained at the School of the Americas (then in Panama). When I was kidnapped from my home in Recife, (Time, November 18, 1974 and Harpers’s, October, 1975) on September 30, 1974, I did not expect to survive. Since the CIA-sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected president of Brazil, João Goulart, in April of 1964, hundreds of Brazilians had been “disappeared” by the military security forces in their ongoing war against “international Communism” and its alleged collaborators within Brazil.
I was not charged with any crimes, nor given access to an attorney, nor any form of “due process.” I was simply kidnapped and taken to a military installation where I was subjected to the same torture procedures we have recently seen illustrated from the Abu Grahib prison in Iraq, which should not surprise us, as those torturing me were trained by the US army. The reason for my abduction and torture was nothing more or less than my association with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Recife, Dom Helder Câmara, one of the architects of the Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII that led to the people-oriented revolution within the Catholic Church. Dom Helder, then a world-renowned figure, thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and major figure in the Third World, was widely admired for his pursuit of non-violent solutions to economic and political injustice. I had been working with him in Recife as a United Methodist missionary for four years, seeking to improve relations between Protestants and Catholics in the Northeast of Brazil, even as I helped found and then directed a social service center in the extremely impoverished community of Caixa D’Agua.
What surprised me, and clearly saved my life, was that the newly appointed US Consul in Recife, a young career Foreign Service officer named Richard Brown, whom I did not know personally, intervened on my behalf and, with the support of the US Ambassador in Brasília, John Crimmins, then the senior career diplomat in the State Department, was able, after four long and desperate days and nights, to get the Brazilian government to honor the Vienna Convention, which required that any signatory country permit consular access to any foreign national arrested and/or imprisoned for whatever reason.
To understand the import of this action by Richard Brown, we need to recall that this was less than a year after the CIA-sponsored overthrow and assassination of Chilean president Salvador Allende (9/11/73) during which two young Americans were murdered by the Chilean security forces without any protest at all from the US government, along with perhaps as many as 20,000 Chileans. The Kissinger administration, which spanned the presidencies of Richard Nixon (who resigned in August of 1974) and Gerald Ford, was a strong supporter of the Brazilian military, as it was providing a favorable climate for US-based multi-national corporation investments. Outcries from human rights organizations were ignored normally by Kissinger, certainly one of the major war criminals of history, responsible for the genocidal bombings of the civilian population in Cambodia that killed more than a million people, not to mention the horrors of Vietnam.
In this context, for a junior officer of the State Department to raise a stink because one insignificant US citizen in Recife because of his concern for human rights and the good name of the United States was more than remarkable. It was heroic.
Because of his efforts, and the support he got from Ambassador Crimmins, late in the afternoon of October 3, 1974, the fourth day of my imprisonment, Richard Brown was allowed to see me.
A couple of hours earlier, my torturers took me to my cell—from the torture chamber—and had me take a bath and put my clothes on. (I had been allowed only my shorts since my kidnapping four days earlier). I was then taken across town to another military installation in Jaboatão, after being threatened that I should not relate to Mr. Brown any of the horrors I had been subjected to during those four days, as I would be returning to their tender care after meeting with him.
On arriving at my new “quarters”, I was placed in what I later discovered was a guest room for officers. After the previous four days, when I was either being tortured by beatings or electric shock (recall the photos of Iraqi prisoners with cables attached to various parts of their bodies, including their genitals), being allowed to sleep only for short periods of time on a concrete floor, when my torturers got tired and needed to rest, I was nearly overcome with the accommodations of the room: a real bed, real chairs, a pitcher of ice water and glasses. (My cell had only a concrete floor.)
After about an hour of waiting, during which I imagined all sorts of things, fearing that they had made up the story about my meeting with the Consul just to get me to dress myself in my own clothes and that they were going to kill me—as I knew they had other prisoners—the door opened and a Brazilian colonel entered with Mr. Richard Brown. I can still recall the tremendous thrill I felt on seeing him enter, as it was a clear reminder of the existence of a civilized world “out there.”
Richard Brown began the conversation by asking me if I was being well treated. Recalling the threats they had made before my coming to this place, I said that all was well, while giving him a quick wink with my left eye (the colonel was seated on my right.) Mr. Brown immediately said in a very precise and official voice, “Mr. Morris, I am here representing the government of the United States of America and I want you to know that if you have been mistreated in any way heads will roll. And if you are mistreated after this meeting, more heads will roll.” He was clearly speaking for the tape recorders we both knew would be making a record of our meeting.
With that prompting, I related everything that had happened to me since my kidnapping, starting with my clothes being taken from me, the initial beatings and subsequent electric shocks, sleep deprivation and psychological threats to me and other threats aimed at my Brazilian fiancé. He took out a notebook and for an hour and a half made copious notes of everything I said. Then the door opened and we were informed that our interview was over and Mr. Brown would have to leave. Before leaving, however, he asked me if I had any marks on my body and I quickly removed my shirt to show the bruises and scratches on my arms and back from the many falls I had taken and pushed down my shorts so he could see the purple bruises on my buttocks from the pratfalls caused by the shock-induced contractions of my muscles as the current was increased. Both wrists had scabs from the handcuffs that held me in a standing position during the nights while my torturers were resting.
Mr. Brown again stated for the tape recorders that if I experienced further mistreatment, “heads would roll.” He assured me that he would be back to see me the next day as he was being ushered out.
He was not back the next day, but on Saturday we had another meeting, at which he asked me to relate everything that had happened to me since he had seen me. I told him that I had not been mistreated any more, except for being kept up for several hours after our initial meeting to give a deposition to my chief torturer about “everything I had done in Brazil” since my arrival in 1964. Then he returned every day until on October 16, when I was taken to another military installation in the neighboring city of Olinda and then, accompanied by Mr. Brown, I was taken to my apartment to pack a suitcase of clothing before being expelled. While in my apartment, Mr. Brown talked with me quietly, in pig-Latin of all things, to confuse Major Maia, the chief of the torture apparatus (and self-proclaimed graduate of the School of the Americas) who was with us and who didn’t understand that language. Brown asked me to go to Washington as soon as I could and visit the members of Congress who had been active in my case and ask them to write letters of commendation to the State Department for the actions of Brown and Crimmins, and ask that those letters be placed in their personnel files, because, as he explained, Kissinger was very unhappy with the way this event had upset the Brazilian generals and was putting pressure on the Department to sanction Crimmins and Brown.
After spending the night sleeping on the floor of the Federal Police offices in Recife, I was taken to the airport and put on a plane to Rio, accompanied by an armed guard, where I was kept in a cell at Federal Police headquarters for the rest of the day and evening, until I was placed on the 11:00 p.m. flight to New York, together with a letter from then-President General Ernesto Geisel saying that I was being expelled from Brazil as a “person prejudicial to national interests” and that if I ever returned to Brazil I would be imprisoned for four years for violating the terms of my expulsion. No formal charges were ever made against me and I was never given any opportunity to present a defense. As my oldest son was born in Brazil, it was a clear violation of the Brazilian Constitution to expel me, as Article 100 says that a foreigner who had a Brazilian child could not be expelled for any reason.
On arriving in New York the next morning, I was met by my brother, the Rev. Hughes B. Morris, Jr., a United Methodist pastor from Nebraska, and the Revs. Paul McCleary and Lewistine McCoy of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, who promptly took us to 475 Riverside Drive, the headquarters of the Methodist mission enterprise, for which I had been working the past 11 years. After about an hour of conversation, they informed me that I had “resigned” from the Board. I reminded them that on January 1, 1974, I had taken a leave of absence from the Board. My first wife and I were in the process of a divorce and as no missionary in Brazil had ever been divorced before I did not want to embarrass the Brazilian church, so requested a leave of absence, which was permitted for up to two years for “personal reasons.” According to the rules and regulations of the Board, I could “reactivate” at any time within a two-year period simply by requesting that status, which I did. They insisted that I had resigned, even though there was no documentation and then, after a bit of embarrassed conversation among themselves, without any further explanation they gave me $1,000 in traveler’s cheques as a “hardship payment” and ushered us out of their offices.
They had made arrangements for us to stay at a hotel for two nights and that was the end of that. I was amazed that people for whom I had worked for 11 years would sever our relationship in such a cold way without any explanation, and equally amazed that they did not even bother to have a doctor give me a physical examination to see if I had any serious ailments or injuries as a result of the torture. (In the 31 years since then I have never been given any explanation for my being terminated by the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church after my nearly 11 years of service and 17 days of imprisonment.)
Since 1970 I had been a stringer for Time in Recife and they had asked me to visit their offices in New York, which we did as soon as the Methodists ushered us out. On my way back to Brazil in 1970 I had had a chance encounter with a Time correspondent who was on vacation and he suggested that I contact their correspondent in Rio, Kay Huff. Kay was delighted to know of someone in Recife who could speak and write fluent English and asked me to be his stringer. This was not a significant “employment opportunity” as they only paid $5.00 an hour when I did any “fetching and carrying” for them, which didn’t happen very often in those days as the magazine didn’t regard northeast Brazil as a very important area for news. I had asked Dr. McCoy of the Board of Global Ministries about the offer and we agreed that it would be good to have this contact with the international press, as Dom Helder, the archbishop I was to be working with, was under a great deal of pressure from the Brazilian army and his life had been threatened on numerous occasions. We felt that this connection with the press could provide some “life insurance” for him in case the army made any more direct moves toward him.
The Time people in New York apologized for not meeting me at the airport but said the Methodists had assured them that they would be taking care of me. They wanted me to write the story of my experiences for publication in the magazine, but I told them that Major Maia had threatened me that they would torture my Brazilian fiancé, Tereza, if I made any “unfortunate reports” about my experiences in their custody and that I needed to await assurances from Mr. Brown that she would not be harmed if I told my story. They said OK, that I should go visit my family in Nebraska, write up the story and as soon as I got the green light from Richard Brown, return to New York and they would publish it.
The next day my brother returned to Nebraska, as he had to preach on Sunday, and I took the train to DC, where I stayed with Carol and Kim Flower, friends from Recife where Kim had been stationed with the State Department a couple of years before. On Monday I went to the State Department, accompanied by the Rev. Joe Eldridge, a United Methodist pastor who had been in Chile from 1970-73, and who was organizing the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights organization sponsored by a coalition of church groups concerned about the human rights situation in the hemisphere. I had known Joe since we had been together at a missionary conference in 1970 just before he went to Chile and I returned to Brazil for my second term as a missionary.
We went to the Brazil Desk of the State Department where we were received by a young officer named Alex Watson, who years later in the 1990s would become the Under-Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. I asked him for the names of the members of Congress who had been involved in my case as I wanted to express my thanks to them. He opened up the file and looked at me as said, “Who are you?” I said, surprised, “What do you mean?” He replied, “These people have never been on the same list before except at roll call.” He then produced a list of nine members of the House and ten Senators who had been active during my imprisonment. They ranged from Senators Kennedy and McGovern to Senators Carl Curtis (R-NE) and Roman Hruska (R-NE); Henry Belmon (R-OK); Sam Nunn (D-GA); Adlai Stevenson III (D-IL); Charles Percy (R-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and others. These and a similar mixture of House members had come together because of pressure from members of my family in Nebraska, Oklahoma and Georgia and the United Methodist Church in a variety of places. (Methodists everywhere were upset at hearing that one of their missionaries was being tortured by the Brazilian army).
Joe and I set out to visit as many of these persons as we could find to thank them for what they had done for me and to encourage them to continue to support human rights in Latin America. We discovered that most of them did not know much about the horrendous situation in Latin America, but having been drawn into this reality by their support for me, they were interested and many became supporters of this cause to greater or lesser degrees. But all those we were able to meet with wrote letters at my request to the State Department commending Richard Brown and John Crimmins for their excellent work on my behalf and in supporting the traditional American values of human dignity and rights.
After three days in Washington, I flew to Chicago, where the Rev. Martin Deppe, a classmate from seminary days, received me at the airport and took me to Evanston, where, on Sunday I preached at the First United Methodist Church in that city. Its senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Dow Kirkpatrick, had been a friend for many years and had visited me in Brazil. He was recovering from surgery at the time and had invited me to fill in for him on Sunday.
Then I flew to North Platte, Nebraska, where my father, the Rev. Dr. Hughes B. Morris, Sr., was pastor of the First United Methodist Church. He, too, asked me to preach on Sunday. On both of these occasions I discovered that simply sharing my experiences under torture and how my faith enabled me to survive was a powerful message that had a significant impact on the hearers. There was a universal outrage to hear that I had actually been tortured by the Brazilian military and even more when I shared the news that the Brazilian torturers had told me that they had been trained by the School of the Americas.
After about three weeks, during which I wrote down in great detail all that had happened to me while in prison, I received a phone call from Mr. Brown in Recife assuring me that he had received word that Tereza would not be harmed if I spoke out, as her father was a retired officer of the Brazilian army and it was unthinkable to the Brazilian military that they harm his daughter, no matter how crazy she was to want to marry an American “subversive.” I immediately called Time and they urged me to fly to New York with my story. So, on November 6 I flew from North Platte to New York City.
On arrival, I want to the offices of Time in Rockefeller Center, where I was received with a great deal of warmth and given a desk with a typewriter and instructions to write up my story in 250 words or less. As I had a manuscript of more than 10 pages I found that to be a bit overwhelming. Everything I had written seemed so important to me that I didn’t want to cut out anything. 250 words! What could I say?
After working for two days and getting a basic story down to about three pages, the editor who was working with me began making some suggestions. As we were talking about various aspects of my experience, I mentioned to him that I had recited the 23rd Psalm to myself each time they were dragging me from my cell to the torture chamber and that this had been a significant source of strength for me. To my surprise, he literally broke out with goose bumps, got up and excused himself and went out to talk with one of his colleagues. He returned in a few minutes to say that he had gotten us another thousand words. Then he worked with me for the next couple of hours to “tailor” the story into the form that finally fit into the magazine in the two-page article that appeared in the magazine the following Monday (November 11, 1974, with the dateline of November 18. I have never understood why Time always comes out a week before the dateline, but it does.)
As the final deadline was at noon on Friday, November 8, I was pretty much done and had a weekend in New York to spend by myself. This was not a good time, however, as I was feeling the backlash of my recent dislocation from Brazil. Before all of this happened I had made a decision to spend the rest of my life in that country and was really feeling exiled. Now I was alone and unemployed with no idea of what the future held for me. And at that time, I knew absolutely no one in New York.
As I had been doing some fairly serious photography during my time in Brazil, I took part of the $1,000 I had received from the Board of Global Ministries and bought myself a 35mm Pentax and a dozen rolls of film. So on Saturday morning, which was a beautiful fall day with the sky a sparkling blue, I decided to wander around and take some picture. After graduating from Seminary at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey in 1959, I had done some further graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, so I was familiar with the city and the subways, etc. So I took a train down to the Battery and entertained myself taking pictures of that area. Then I walked up to the World Trade Center, which was in the process of being completed, but which was not yet open. I walked into one of the towers, which looked like it was ready, but was told politely that the building was not open and that I could not stay. As I walked out, I saw a group of about 20 women, mostly African American and Hispanic, going into the other tower. Without thinking much, I simply joined them and followed them into the lobby, where they went straight to the elevators and boarded. I stayed with them up to the 70th floor, as I recall. They were going to the personnel office, apparently seeking employment in the new buildings. As they turned left to go to the office, I turned right and went to the other bank of elevators and entered one and punched 110 and proceeded to the top floor of the WTC. When the elevator doors opened, I encountered the area completely open but filled with paint cans and other construction materials and equipment. So I spent the next 90 minutes enjoying being the first tourist to visit the building and taking three or four rolls of pictures of the area from the tower. Then I retraced my steps to the ground and continued my personal tour of Manhattan.
On Monday morning I was at the hotel newsstand when it opened to buy my copy of Time to see how the story came out. Then I went to the offices of Time as they had requested, as they wanted to plan some promotional activities around the story. This began a whirlwind tour, starting with a 10-minute appearance on the Today Show the next day, radio interviews and another TV interview with public television. Then Time escorted me around the US, to Chicago, Atlanta and other places, where I was interviewed on talk shows, always presented as “former Time correspondent”, which was an interesting promotion from being a stringer in Recife. But I was never presented as “former United Methodist missionary,” which was amusing and ironic in the light of my recent termination from ten years of service with them.
All in all, I was interviewed on 27 TV programs around the US and one trip to Toronto where I was featured in an hour-long program in prime time called Man Alive on the Canadian Broadcasting Network. I definitely got my “15 minutes.”
In December, Tereza came to the States and we were married in North Platte, Nebraska by my father and then returned to Washington where I began a contract job with the Library of Congress to write a book for Senator George McGovern about the first ten years of the Food for Peace Program (of which he had been the first Director). I had been contracted for this project because it called for using the Northeast of Brazil as a case study to evaluate the efficacy of the program. I spent the next five months working on this project which was then presented to Senator McGovern. As far as I know it was never read by anyone outside of the Congressional Research Service and its conclusions certainly were never considered in future policies of US aid to developing countries.
As I knew my work with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress was a limited contract, I had begun looking for work even before that contract was finalized. However, everywhere I turned I discovered that the doors were closed. The United Methodist Church had put me on some sort of “list” that meant that other religious groups were not interested in me. The U.S. government had me on another list that made me pretty much unemployable by any government agencies apart from the Library. Foundations and think-tanks were reluctant to add an infamous “subversive” to their payrolls. And in the secular world, my resume after twenty-some years in the church did not thrill most employers and, beside that, the recession of 1974-75 was pretty deep and people with my kind of resumes were be let go in droves to make room for recent college graduates who would work for practically nothing. (I would have, too, if anyone had offered me a job.)
After some 20 months of fruitless job-hunting, which did not result in a single job interview (“you’re overqualified for anything we might have”) and having “nickel-and-dimed” it for all that time with speaking engagements in churches and universities, where my human rights had some appeal, I grew pretty desperate. I had been supporting myself and my new wife, and making my child support payments to my former wife, by putting together as many speaking engagements as I could. All in all I spoke to more than 150 churches and universities during this period, usually for expenses and an honorarium that rarely exceeded $100, and I wrote a longer version of the Time story for Harper’s, (October, 1975) which netted me the sum of $1,500, which was an unbelievable amount to me at the time. But as time moved on, interest in my experiences in 1974 waned and invitations grew fewer and fewer.
Finally, SWEPCO, the Southwestern Petroleum Company, which manufactures water-proofing materials and systems, with which I had started an association in Recife just before I was expelled from Brazil while on my “leave of absence” from the Board of Global Ministries, offered me a job opportunity. Buddy Thomas, their Vice President for international business, who had called me in New York at the Time offices the day after my appearance on the Today Show to see how I was doing, and who called me from time to time to express concern for me, offered me the chance to be their distributor in Costa Rica. He explained that they had appreciated our relationship in Brazil and were looking for someone to sell their wares in Costa Rica without much success and said that if I wanted it he would name me as their distributor in Costa Rica.
At that time the only thing I knew about Costa Rica was that it did not have an army, which was a great attraction for both Tereza and me. We were both homesick for Latin America and frustrated and somewhat frightened over my inability to find gainful employment in the United States, so we agreed to go to San José and give it a whirl. Three wonderful friends loaned me a total of $7,500 to enable us to get to Costa Rica and set up a new business, so we loaded all our worldly goods, except for my books, which we sent by mail, in our car, and set out to drive to Costa Rica.
Our first stop was in Atlanta where we spent a few days camping at Stone Mountain with my two children from my first marriage, Jeny and Jonathan. While there I received a phone call from Richard Brown—through the park ranger. He had called my former wife, Carol, in Atlanta, and discovered that we were at the campground and then he called the ranger station and they hunted me down. When we finally connected, he began talking in a sort of coded way, referring to the “big bull” (re: Kissinger), and the little bulls (re: he and Crimmins); the market (State Department), etc. In this round-about way he communicated that Kissinger, who I knew from the press had been in Chile at a meeting of Latin American military, was being pressured by the Brazilian military to punish Crimmins and Brown for their temerity in defending a “subversive” American in Recife. Brown made it clear that he feared that the two “small bulls” might well be headed for the “slaughter house.”
During my 22 months in Washington, I had established a warm relationship with Les Whitten, who was the co-author of the Jack Anderson column. I had at one point shared with him my concern that Kissinger would “get” Brown and Crimmins for having jeopardized his good relationship with the Brazilian military and he had said that if that ever happened they would love to “get” Kissinger. He implied that they had a lot of other “stuff” on Kissinger and that this would be a good “peg” to hang it all on. I had communicated this to Richard Brown and he was now asking me to be prepared to contact Whitten if Kissinger made his move. We agreed, all through our unsophisticated coded language, that I would call him from wherever I was on the trip to San José every third day (collect) to see what was happening.
As we drove to New Orleans, then Houston, then to the border of Mexico and on down through Central America, I called him in Recife every three days to see what was happening. Finally he informed me somewhere in between El Salvador and Nicaragua that the crisis seemed to have passed as Ambassador Crimmins being the senior career diplomat in the State Department with many, many supporters from his work and contacts over more than 25 years had turned out to be too big a fish (bull?) for even a Henry Kissinger to fry.
I spent the next 12 years in Costa Rica working with SWEPCO as a roofing contractor. In 1981, horrified by the “misinformation campaign of the Reagan administration regarding Central America, I founded the Institute for Central American Studies and began publishing an alternative newsletter, Mesoamerica, which became the premier publication for church and student groups in the US that were opposing the Reagan policies in Central America. That led to a number of speaking tours throughout the US in the 1980s, as persons who had heard me about Brazil were interested in what I had to say about Central America. Needless to say the Reagan administration was not pleased and our telephones in Costa Rica were intercepted for years and I was regularly harassed as I traveled. But Costa Rica is a democracy and there was room to operate in opposing the policies of my country.
I didn’t see Richard Brown again for several years until once while in Washington while on a speaking tour in the US talking about the events in Central America, sometime around 1983 or 1984 I discovered that he was there and invited him to have dinner with me, at which time I thanked him most profusely for his intervention on my behalf.
He told me then that there had been a cost. The Brazilian military made his life as miserable as possible for the remainder of his two-year tour of duty in Recife and his next assignment was not quite as much of a promotion as he might normally have expected. However I observed later that he spent several years as US ambassador in Uruguay before his final post in Washington as a sort of roving expert on Latin America much involved in seeking to expand commercial relations in the hemisphere.
The last time I saw Richard Brown was in early 2004, when a mutual friend, Donald Ranck, who had been a Mennonite missionary in Recife when I was there and who had become a very close friend of Richard Brown as a consequence of the events surrounding my imprisonment and expulsion, sent me an email informing me that the Richard had retired from the Foreign Service and was living in Casselberry, Florida, which was just about three miles from my home in Winter Springs.
I immediately called him and invited him and his wife to come to our home on a Sunday afternoon in February for a Brazilian churrasco (barbecue). They came and we had a wonderful day together, during which I took the opportunity to express to him again how much I appreciated what he had done for me. I spoke this mainly for his wife, whom I had never met before, as I had already expressed my gratitude to him in our earlier encounter, but I wanted her to know how much I appreciated what her husband had done and how much I admired him for having done it.
Three of my children were present and they were duly impressed at having Ambassador Brown actually there in our home, as they had known of him from my conversations before.
He reiterated to us how his career had suffered because of his actions and of the pressures he and Ambassador Crimmins had received from Kissinger. However, this was overcome when new people took charge of the State Department and he ended his career on a high note and was not at all sorry for what he had done, even though it had cost him. He said that he had felt that the honor of the United States was at stake and that he could do nothing other than protest the violation of my human rights and work for my release.
It was a wonderful day and we celebrated with pictures and ended with Brazilian abracos. Three weeks later I received word that Richard Brown had had a massive heart attack in his sleep and had died.
As we are now facing the horrifying spectacle of our president, vice president, Secretaries of State and Defense and Attorney General all making torture a “legitimate” weapon in our arsenal against international terrorism, I ask, Where is Richard Brown when we really need him?
Ambassador Joseph Wilson took a stand on the lies told to get us into the war—and paid an incredible price for it. A few other “whistle blowers” have appeared from the Pentagon and a few other places. And most of them have been punished by a ruthless administration that allows no dissent from within and little from without. But we desperately need more Richard Browns from within the establishment to stand up and say “no” to a passing government that is sullying the name of the United States around the world by making torture a policy of state.
My case, along with many others, is clear proof that our military and intelligence forces have been engaged in nefarious activities for many years. But never before have we had a President who so cynically defends such policies. Earlier presidents at least had the decency to lie about it. And never was it defended by specious legal memos that effectively remove the United States from the international community and make us a rogue state.
On December 11, 1974 I was invited to testify before a Congressional committee (Congressman Don Fraser’s Committee on International Organizations and Movements of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs) about my experiences in Brazil. In that testimony I said the following:
“Torture brutalizes and dehumanizes not only those who are tortured but those who torture, those who are intimidated by the torture of others, and those who try to ignore the fact that torture exists.
“It dehumanizes those who are tortured by treating them as less than human and, in many cases, by forcing them into less-than-human feelings and often into less-than-human acts. If one is forced to betray friends, companions and family through torture, as many are, the psychological and spiritual damage may be irreparable, quite apart from the permanent physical damage that often results.
“It dehumanizes those who torture. In addition to the psychopathology induced and encouraged in those who practice torture, persons and governments who resort to torture, for whatever motives, betray their social contract with their fellow humans and effectively secede from the human community.
“It dehumanizes those who are intimidated. Churchmen who cease to proclaim the gospel in its fullness out of fear; students who cease to make the search for truth their vocation out of fear; journalists who give the public less than the truth for fear of reprisal; workers who, through fear of repression, are not allowed to organize to defend their interests; politicians who can only rubber-stamp authoritarian proposals from dictatorial regimes, for fear of the consequences of more independent, conscience-led actions—all these and in fact the whole community of man share in the dehumanization caused by torture.
“Torture dehumanizes those who try to ignore it, saying it is an “internal affair” or a passing phase. Such indifference dries up the wellsprings of human sympathy and compassion and breaks the social contract of the world community to be concerned for the whole family of man. Civilization and freedom are not built, and cannot be maintained, by those who assume the posture of indifference.”
I continue to be involved in Latin America. From 2002 to 2004 I was the Director for Latin American and Caribbean Relations of the National Council of Churches of Christ of the USA. Today I am the President of Faith Partners of the Americas, a non-profit organization dedicated to deepening relations of solidarity between churches in the US and faith communities throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. As I travel in the region there is no place in the hemisphere where the US is not feared and hated because of our war policies and actions and for our blatant use of torture and kidnapping to carry out our policies. The peoples of the region suffered the same for years from the military dictators that ruled them. But throughout that dark period the US was, for them, a beacon of hope because of our public and international defense of human rights. No more. We are clearly seen as the enemy. And they are painfully puzzled that the American people don’t do something to stop this.
It is past time for the American people to stand up and say “no more. These policies do not represent us—this is totally un-American and we will have no more of it in our name.”
In 1963, Fred Morris became a missionary of the United Methodist Church to Brazil, where he spent eleven years. As the result of his journalistic activities and his close association with Archbishop Câmara, who was the leading opponent of the Brazilian military, who had overthrown the democratically-elected government in 1964, he was kidnapped by the Brazilian army in 1974 and spent 17 days in their torture chambers in Recife before being expelled by presidential decree as a person “prejudicial to national interests.” On his return to the United States, Time published a two-page first-person account of his experiences entitled Torture, Brazilian Style (Nov. 18, 1974). He subsequently appeared on the Today Show and more than 25 other TV talk shows in the U.S. and Canada. He testified before the U.S. Congress and lobbied for human rights in Latin America in Washington for nearly two years, and published another story in Harper’s (October, 1975 ‘In the presence of mine enemies’