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Jennifer Harbury is an attorney and human rights advocate who has documented, exposed, and spoken publicly about human rights abuses including those supported by the United States. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Harbury worked at a small legal aid clinic on the Texas-Mexico border. Among her clients in the early 1980s were Guatemalan Mayan immigrants in Texas seeking to escape the death squads operating during that nation’s civil war. Guatemala’s government had engaged in a decades-long campaign of genocide and repression waged primarily against Guatemala’s indigenous population and defenders of human rights.
In the 1980s, Harbury traveled to Guatemala and became more involved in helping the indigenous Mayans. There, she met and married Efraín Bámaca Velásquez, a Comandante of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) known by his nom de guerre as Comandante Everardo. The URNG was part of the Mayan resistance to the Guatemalan government’s systematic policies of repression and genocide. On March 12, 1992, local members of the Guatemalan army captured Bámaca, secretly detained and tortured him for more than a year, and killed him in September 1993. His torturers and murderers were later proven to be paid CIA informants.
Harbury set out to find her husband's whereabouts and continued working with Guatemalans in the US to protest against human rights abuses. She took legal action despite receiving threats on her life for these efforts. Harbury initiated two hunger strikes in Guatemala and another in front of the White House, and filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA to gain access to the information they had about her husband.
During this period, both the Guatemalan and United States governments claimed they had no knowledge of Bámaca's whereabouts. Nevertheless, as a result of Harbury's actions, a U.S. State Department official named Richard Nuccio conducted an internal investigation and discovered evidence that the CIA had known both where Bámaca was being held and that the army had ultimately killed him. It was also revealed that the CIA had a close working relationship with the Central American military death squads responsible for Bámaca’s disappearance and had been funneling money to them, despite a Congressional prohibition since 1990. In 1996, Nuccio revealed this information and became a whistleblower, and was stripped of his national security clearance. In 1997 Harbury published Searching for Everardo: A Story of Love, War, and the CIA in Guatemala, a work of courage and truth-telling that uncovers US complicity in torture and violent, anti-democratic suppression of people’s rights.
In 2005, Harbury published another book, Truth, Torture, and the American Way, which documents the CIA´s historical use of torture in aiding repressive regimes around the world. This book shows that the use of torture by American interrogators at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo was nothing new. Harbury is a recipient of the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award (1995), and the Cavallo Award for Moral Courage (1997). She shared this award with Richard Nuccio.
Return to Tribute to Justice: Remembering 40 years September 9th 2013.