Remarks by Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Thank you John (Seigenthaler) for that very generous introduction. John is a valued friend to all the members of the Kennedy family and an outstanding journalist as well. We are particularly grateful for his remarkable service to the Kennedy Library as the Chairman of the Profile In Courage Awards Committee. He plays a vital role in helping to find the consensus that leads to the choice of the courageous winners we honor here today.
The annual Profile In Courage Award was instituted more than a decade ago by the Kennedy Library Foundation as a memorial to my brother and as a way to encourage contemporary political leaders to be more willing to take on the tough issues, and to demonstrate the quality of political courage, that my brother so admired and which is all too rare in public life today.
Courageous actions worthy of recognition do not always happen within the borders of our own nation. As you saw in the film, we were privileged to have President Viktor Yushchenko here at the Library last month to present with the Award.
At a critical moment in his nation's history, President Yushchenko took a strong and courageous stand for what he knew was right. In the ongoing struggle for democracy in Ukraine, he risked his life and nearly lost it. Because of his extraordinary courage, and the courage of the Ukrainian people, the rule of law prevailed. President Yushchenko is an inspiration to all people everywhere and the Library was proud to honor him.
This year's winners continue to remind us that courageous individuals, acting on principle, can make an extraordinary difference for their communities and our country. In this era of intense partisan divisions, it is most heartening and inspiring to pay tribute to the political courage of Mayor Franklin, Senator Ratliff, and Sergeant Darby, who chose first and foremost to act for the good of their community and country. President Kennedy would be proud of them.
Today, the Library is very proud to present a special Profile in Courage Award to a young soldier, who while stationed in Iraq, acted on the simple profound truth -- that torture is wrong. Sergeant Joseph Darby unexpectedly discovered photographs of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in the digital camera of a fellow soldier who had taken photos of their tour of duty. He was stunned at what he saw and wrestled with his conscience. He decided the only moral course of action was to report the abuses to his superiors and give them the photos.
His courageous action ignited a firestorm when the shocking images became public. The photographs of cruelty and perversion are still difficult to look at, and they belied the administration's contention that Saddam Hussein's "torture rooms had been closed forever." The images horrified us and severely damaged our reputation around the world. They undermined the validity of the military's "golden rule" - to treat captured enemy forces, as we would want our own troops to be treated. The photographs are now seared into our national memory and the firestorm still rages about the accountability for those abuses.
The FBI, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the British all refused to participate in the interrogations, because of their grave concerns about the brutal methods. Reports to our senior military officials by the International Committee of the Red Cross, about inhumane treatment of Iraqis, were ignored.
It was Joseph Darby who spoke out when others looked the other way. He spoke out even knowing that he would be harassed -- or worse -- for doing so, and he has paid a high price. Because of the threats they received, he and his wife have been moved into protective custody - all because he followed his conscience and said the interrogations were unacceptable.
Like most Americans, Sergeant Darby believes that an essential part of protecting our nation and winning the war on terrorism is safeguarding the ideals that America stands for at home and around the world. Joseph Darby courageously refused to remain silent, and in so doing he embodied the best of our American values when he said "enough" at Abu Ghraib. He is a true Profile in Courage.
Mayor Shirley Franklin was faced with an 82 million dollar deficit and a city whose infrastructure had been neglected to the point that federal environmental agencies had levied fines against Atlanta to the tune of 20 thousand dollars a day. The top officials of the previous administration were awaiting trial on corruption and the trust of the people had been broken. When she was elected the first African American woman to be mayor of a southern city in the United States, she had her work cut out for her.
Mayor Franklin knew she had to regain the confidence of her constituents, stop the decay and restore the fiscal sanity of her beloved city. Her solution was tough love, straight talk, and bold action. She asked for sacrifice from all and she included herself. While cutting the city payroll and implementing new taxes, she shared the pain by cutting her own salary by 40 thousand dollars.
The city was in trouble and homelessness had become an epidemic. Mayor Franklin set out to give Atlanta her own New Deal. She convinced the city council to pass the needed taxes, and enact a new code of ethics for city employees. She talked private firms into conducting audits for free and made them public so everyone would know the difficulties and what needed to be done.
In a brilliant display of bipartisan negotiation, she worked with state and county officials to create a combination of loans and agreements that produced 3 billion dollars to fun the essential repairs that had been needed for so long.
Now after just three years in office she has produced not only three balanced budgets -- but also this year an 18 million dollar surplus! A new 5 million dollar shelter for the homeless will open this summer. No wonder her polls are sky-high!
In being able to convince Republican state officials and the business community to work with her on behalf of the city, she achieved success. She did so by proving she was serious about meeting them half way. I wonder if we could borrow her, for just a little while, to help bring Washington back from the brink!
Mayor Shirley Franklin is a public official who beat the odds, and we in public service are in awe of her outstanding achievements and the great courage she had to see them through.
Senator Bill Ratliff has had a most distinguished career in the state legislature in Austin. He was at the center of historic legislation on education, and at various times chaired the three most important committees - Finance, State Affairs, and Education. For six years in a row, he was regularly recognized as one of the very best legislators by the local media. He had even been chosen by his fellow Senators to be Lieutenant Governor, when George Bush went on to other things.
Senator Ratliff's wisdom and integrity were so admired and respected that he was called the conscience of the Senate and given a nickname that would greatly impress my grandchildren….Obi-Wan Kenobi.
It is not unusual for the Profile in Courage Award to be given to a Republican, but it's rare indeed that we have the opportunity to honor a Jedi knight!
With this extraordinary background and reputation, Senator Ratliff made the most difficult decision, and found the greatest challenge, of his public life. He is a man of high principle who courageously risked the wrath of his fellow Republican legislators where it's probably the most difficult of all to do - deep in the heart of Texas.
After his term as Lt. Governor, Senator Ratliff returned to a state Senate that had become more partisan and had fewer experienced legislators. As gifted as he was at writing and handling complex legislation, it was more difficult than ever to weigh competing arguments and reach successful compromised.
A boiling point was reached on the issue of redistricting, often the most difficult matter of all. He warned his party leaders that a partisan effort could cause bitter division and lasting outrage, but Governor Perry called the Legislature into three successive special sessions to gerrymander the boundaries of the legislative districts to lock in the election of more Republicans.
Outraged Democratic Senators left the state to prevent a quorum, but in the end the redistricting bill was passed. To his everlasting credit, Bill Ratliff dared to stand alone and vote for principle. In fact, his vote had prevented the gerrymander from being passed in the first special session. Senator Ratliff felt that the whole process was deeply wrong, and he felt he could no longer, in good conscience, be a part of it.
He had always voted as a matter of principle, but now felt that it was time, before the end of his term, for him to resign as a matter of principle. Newspapers across the state praised his service and mourned his departure.
In his farewell speech, Senator Ratliff took the high road and thanked his constituents for the privilege of serving them for fifteen exceptional years as a legislator.
John Quincy Adams, whose seat I hold today in the Senate, once said, "Always vote for a principle, though you vote alone, and you may cherish the sweet reflection that your vote is never lost." Senator Bill Ratliff is a magnificent example of the kind of extraordinary courage that President Kennedy and President Adams admired, and we are proud to honor him today.
It is now my special pleasure to introduce Caroline, who continues to inspire us with her excellent leadership here at the Library. I know her parents would be so proud of all she has accomplished. Caroline is a great joy to all of us in the Kennedy family, and in so many ways, she is the moving force behind the annual Profile in Courage Awards.
Ladies and gentlemen, Caroline Kennedy.
Remarks of Senator Edward M. Kennedy delivered at the 2005 Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, Monday, May 16, 2005.