Former Guantanamo Prosecutor To Address FSU Classes

Feb 9, 2021
Originally published on February 7, 2021 4:30 pm

A major motion picture comes out later this month (February) about the United States and its long war on terror. The story includes the saga of one American who insisted no war can justify giving up the nation's principles.

Stuart Couch was a civilian lawyer when the 9/11 attacks came. That prompted his return to military service in hopes of evening the score. But even then, Couch held firm to some deep-seated convictions.

"How do we conduct warfare in a way that is successful, but (also) comports with notions of American values? As Americans, it's okay with us. And I would say for me specifically, both consistent with American values and with what I call Christian virtue. That's a tough order, especially when you're dealing with an enemy that doesn't abide by the rules."

That "tough order" became even more so when Couch found himself assigned to be a prosecutor for suspected terrorists being held at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. Many of the suspects were being subjected to what American officials called "enhanced interrogation techniques." Couch called it "torture," and illegal, both under international and American law.

"Call me idealistic, but I just believe that if we compromise our American values because we're dealing with this particular enemy that did this particular operation, then they've accomplished a lot more than the immediate battlefield success that they've had."

Couch was assigned the case of Mohamedou Ould Salahi. He'd been brought to Guantanamo from his home country of Mauritania. And he'd undergone what Couch believe to be against the laws the U.S. supposedly upheld.

"If you interrogate him on what we were doing at Guantanamo in certain cases, you're violating that. The law that we've abided by for generations through thick and thin. And I personally don't think there's any enemy out there that is worthy of us jettisoning that devotion to the rule of law that we have as Americans."

Ultimately, Couch resigned from the case. That decision attracted wide media attention and further stoked the controversy over whether torture can ever be justified. A debate that still rages today. And now, the tale is hitting the silver screen. Jodie Foster has a pivotal role in the flick. So does Benedict Cumberbatch who portrays Stuart Couch.

"I think he did a great job and I think he did a great job because he got me. He understood where I was coming from," said Couch.

Before "The Mauritanian" opens to the public, a select Florida State University audience will have a virtual screening of it on February tenth through the auspices of the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. The Center's Mark Schlakman said that will follow Couch's back to back appearances before two FSU classes. One is a College of Law Human Rights and National Security seminar. The other involves undergrad, graduate and honors students mostly from the Colleges of Social Sciences, Public Policy and Social Work.

"Involve himself and the class in a discussion to promote critical thinking. To clarify and identify what the legal and policy frameworks are. Where we derive our sensibilities, whether we call it morality, general ethics and what is our individual role? Even if we're not in an official position, what is our role as a citizen and a person?"

As well as the proper role for our nation. Couch is fond of quoting a passage from Alexis DeToqueville's book Democracy in America.

"Written over 200-some years ago and yet some of those lessons, we're just repeating those. And one of the things that DeToqueville said was, 'America is great because America is good. And when America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.'"

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.