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freeSpeech: Natan Sharansky

Some believe that certain controversial interrogation techniques are acceptable. But after nine years in the Soviet Gulag, and 400 days in punishment cells, I know that sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, and enforced hunger are forms of torture.

Maintaining our principles in the face of terror is sometimes dangerous. Abandoning those principles would be even more dangerous.

Still, I am deeply concerned that some of those who insist that America not cede the moral high ground do not recognize that America stands on the moral high ground.

Those who would use abuses at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay to accuse America of being no different than the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, or Sadaam's regime have lost all sense of moral clarity.

America is different because your citizens can protest without going to prison. America is different because your courts can defend rights and your press can expose injustice. America is different because your Congress can hold hearings and because your people can hold your leaders accountable. America is different because America is free.

In standing up against torture, I hope that all Americans will remember the profound moral divide that separates the free world from the world of fear and work to advance abroad the very principles you so rightly cherish at home.




Natan Sharansky, born Anatoly Sharansky in 1948, personified the desperate plight of many Soviet Jews. Caught in the vise of great power politics, Sharansky suffered a prolonged and difficult imprisonment because of his wish to emigrate to Israel and his prominence in the Helsinki Watch Group. Following his release, he was welcomed in Israel as a conquering hero.

After the Helsinki declaration guaranteeing human rights was signed in 1975, Sharansky helped organize the Helsinki Watch Group in Moscow, which was designed to monitor Soviet violations of the accord where he became the group's leading spokesman.

Shcharansky soon fell victim to a classic entrapment. His roommate, secretly working for the KGB, made contact with U.S. Central Intelligence Agency agents in Moscow and apparently began passing information on the Helsinki Watch Group. American suspicions soon caused the ties to be broken, but the damage was done.

On March 15, 1977, surrounded by a crowd of Western reporters who Shcharansky had invited to walk with him to see what it's like to be constantly shadowed," he was arrested. In July 1977 the 30-year-old dissident went on trial for high treason, accused of passing information to an unnamed Western intelligence agency.

In late 1985, after the historic first meeting between Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan in Geneva, the new Soviet leader decided to make a gesture in the direction of improved relations. Still officially insisting that Shcharansky was a spy, the Soviets agreed to his release as part of an exchange of convicted espionage agents on both sides. He was released early on the morning of February 11, 1986