Yesterday in Washington, DC, the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, a group of retired CIA officers who honor intelligence professionals who have taken a stand for integrity and ethics, gave its 2007 Sam Adams Award to an Army intelligence NCO, Sam Provance. I interviewed quite a few NCOs who served in Abu Ghraib, and one of them really stood out—it was Sam Provance. He not only had a very clear sense of what was right and what was wrong, he also had a very stubborn determination to see the truth come out. And in the end much of what was learned about the real goings-on at Abu Ghraib came out due to Sam.
Here’s something from the award citation:
Sam joined the Army in 1998 and became an intelligence analyst. Assigned to Abu Ghraib in September 2003, he quickly learned of the systematic torture there, and was haunted by the words of a Holocaust survivor: “Thou shalt not be a victim; thou shat not be a perpetrator; above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”
Sam felt a duty to those suffering abuse and also to his fellow soldiers, trapped and degraded into implementing illegal policies on torture ordered by superior officers. When he went through Army channels to object, he was reduced in rank and branded a “traitor.”
Sam Provance stood firm, and tall…and alone, since the Army had successfully intimidated his fellow soldiers into obedient silence. He would not be a bystander—gag order or not…
Writing about his experiences in the thirties in Germany, Sebastian Haffner observed: “What was completely absent was any act of courage or spirit by any of the participants.”
There are very few in the U.S. Army who mustered the courage of which Haffner spoke—who stood up and publicly confirmed their belief in values which once all Americans took for granted. Sam Provance is one of them and I’m very proud to know him.
By the way, the award is named not for the “brewer and patriot” Sam Adams of the Revolutionary War era, but for the Vietnam War era Sam Adams, a tragic figure who became a legend in the intelligence community.
It was Sam Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were 500,000 Vietnamese Communists under arms—more than twice the number that the military command in Saigon would acknowledge. Gen. William Westmoreland had put an artificial limit on the number that Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. A cable from Gen. Creighton Abrams in Saigon specifically warned Washington that the press would have a field day if Adam’s numbers were released, and that this would weaken the war effort. In the end of course, Sam Adams was proven correct. He suffered terribly for persisting in his views, and in the end the country suffered, since policy and strategies towards Vietnam were formulated for years based on a gross undercount of the military strength of the adversary.