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School of Law

Military prosecutor shares story of moral dilemma in terrorism case
Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who refused to prosecute a high-profile terrorism case because he believed the defendant's interrogation included torture, visited with Elon law students Tuesday, Oct. 23.

Couch served as a prosecutor on military commissions formed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Assigned to prosecute a top al Qaeda operative, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Couch soon had misgivings about the case.

"It became obvious to me that he was being tortured," said Couch, who began to look into the methods being used to interrogate Slahi. That revelation, combined with his religious faith and belief in "the human dignity of every person," prompted Couch to make a decision that threatened to jeopardize this career. "I just decided that I couldn't go into court, face a jury with a straight face and prosecute the case."

The case didn't end Couch's career, and he has been featured in numerous media reports, including a Wall Street Journal story on his courageous decision. He serves as a judge on the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, and will receive the Minister of Justice award from the American Bar Association Nov. 2, the first military prosecutor to receive the honor.