Jennifer Harbury has always fascinated me. As far as I could tell, she was a normal American lawyer named Jennifer, like me. Then, she fell in love with and married a Guatemalan rebel leader in the early 1990’s, at a time when the country was in a dangerous civil war. Less than a year after they married, the man returned to Guatemala to fight. He was captured by Guatemalan operatives who were working for the United States CIA.
When Harbury tried to find out what happened to him from the government, she was told that they didn’t know where he was or if he was alive. At first, she believed them.
In fact, he was alive and the United States knew it. The CIA operatives were torturing him to get information and the torture may have lasted a year to 18 months. Harbury thinks the government kept this secret from her to avoid embarassment over its complicity with Guatemalan torturers, and that if she had known, she would have been able to do something (file a lawsuit?) to save him. Now it is too late. They eventually killed him, and maybe dismembered him or threw him out of a helicopter.
To get the truth, Harbury staged a hunger strike in front of the White House, which promped Congressman Torricelli of New Jersey, who was on a government committee that had access to classified information about Guatemala, to publically disclose that the government knew the man was dead.
Harbury filed a lawsuit, which she argued before the Supreme Court today. I don’t know if anyone has ever argued their own case before the Supreme Court before. I searched the Internet, and I couldn’t find any pictures of Harbury and Bamaca, her husband, together. I don’t think they were married long enough to even have pictures. But his capture completely transformed her, and it seems she’s done nothing else but fight for the information about his death since 1992. Her obsession with finding out what happened to this man she, honestly, barely knew is both unbalanced and at the same time the only moral choice a person could make.
How many other issues are there that, if you trully believed, you would have to sacrifice your whole life for that purpose. If I truly hated the death penalty, shouldn’t I break into prisons to free condemned inmates? If I truly believed abortion was murder, wouldn’t I do anything, even kill, to stop it? What is the line between dedication and obsession? In polite society, it is sometimes acceptable to believe, but it is insane to act in accordance with those beliefs.