Lawyer, Human Rights Activist, Writer : b. 1951
When Jennifer Harbury entered Harvard Law School she knew that she wanted to study civil rights law. After growing up in Connecticut and graduating from Cornell University, she traveled widely in Asia and Africa witnessing first hand incidents of brutal injustice and repression. After law school, she went to work in a small legal aid bureau on the Texas-Mexico border. In the early 1980s, thousands of Guatemalan Mayans were escaping to Texas from death squads in their home country. US immigration was sending these refugees back. Harbury decided to go to Guatemala to see for herself what was going on. The experience changed her life.
In Guatemala, she met Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who was known as Commandante Everardo. Comandante Everado was a leader of the Mayan resistance to the Guatemalan oligarchy’s brutal repression of its indigenous people. (Mayan’s make up about 80% of the Guatemalan population.) She and Everardo fell in love and were married. He was subsequently captured, tortured for two-and-a-half years then murdered.
Harbury conducted hunger strikes in Guatemala and in front of the White House in Washington, DC to try to force officials to tell her the truth about what had happened to her husband. The US denied any knowledge of the situation. Finally an official in the US State Department leaked the truth that the US had known all along what had happened to Everardo, and that men on the CIA payroll had participated in his torture and murder. Harbury’s book Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala ( 1997), a classic work of courage and truth telling, uncovers the US complicity in right wing torture and violent, anti-democratic suppression of poor people’s rights.
In 2005, Harbury published another book, Truth, Torture, and the American Way, which documents the CIA´s historical use of torture. This book shows that the use of torture by American interrogators at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo was nothing new. In the book, she stresses that torture is counter-productive, and does not elicit accurate information from its victims. By using torture, writes Harbury, “We are reacting out of fear instead of thinking our way through the difficult process of conflict resolution. In the end, our use of violence and repression can only sow seeds of hatred and trauma, which in the end will produce only greater violence against us.” And, she writes, “We must accept the fact that we are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ collective keepers. If we are indifferent to the basic human needs of others, then peace will always elude us. Suffering, when too long ignored, inevitably leads to conflagration.”
Jennifer Harbury is also the author of Bridge to Courage: Life Stories of Guatemalan Companeros & Companeras (1995). In 1995 she received a Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, and in 1997 the Cavallo Award for Moral Courage. She shared this award with Richard Nuccio, the U.S. State Department official who leaked the information about the CIA’s cover-up of and complicity in the torture and murder of her husband Everardo. For this act, Nuccio was denied his federal security clearance.