John F. Kennedy Library Honors Outspoken Lawmaker, Navy Lawyer

U.S. Rep. John Murtha, an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, and Alberto Mora, a former Navy general counsel who clashed with superiors over abuse of terrorism detainees, were honored Monday as recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

The men accepted the awards from the former U.S. president's daughter, Caroline, at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library attended by several members of Congress and the Kennedy family.

Murtha, a decorated combat veteran and conservative Democrat with a long history of supporting the military, broke ranks with the Bush administration in November, when he called for withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

"Today my words of Nov. 17, 2005, and the many that followed, reflect not only my gut consciousness but that of many in our military and the majority of this country," Murtha said. "I am proud to be the messenger of those who at one time had no voice."

Murtha's change of heart helped shape the public debate over the war, because of his reputation as a Democratic hawk and retired Marines Reserves colonel who enjoyed easy access to presidents.

The award committee said Murtha's decision "made him the target of withering political attacks and resulted in efforts by political opponents to discredit his Vietnam War decorations."

Mora, formerly one of the Pentagon's top civilian lawyers, fought a two-and-a-half year behind-the-scenes battle with Pentagon brass and civilian leaders over U.S. military policies regarding detainees — policies he said could invite abuse.

"We need to be clear. Cruelty disfigures our national character," Mora said. "It is incompatible with our constitutional order, with our laws, and with our most prized values. Cruelty can be as effective as torture in destroying human dignity, and their is no moral distinction between one and the other."

Mora retired this year and now is a general counsel for Wal-Mart.

Among those in attendance were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat; Massachusetts Congressmen Barney Frank and Stephen Lynch and various Kennedy family members.

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, created in 1989, is presented annually to public servants who have withstood strong opposition to follow what they believe is the right course of action. The award is named for President Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "Profiles in Courage," which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers to fight for what they believed in.

Past recipients of the award include former U.S. President Gerald Ford, Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko, and U.S. Sens. John McCain and Russell Feingold.