By Robert Newson
When I am asked about torture or, more frequently, when I feel the need to speak out against torture, I don’t talk about the fact that it doesn’t work (it doesn’t), nor the fact that it contributes to the enemy’s narrative and recruiting (it does). Instead, I talk about its gravest cost—what it does to the Americans whom we ask to conduct torture and what it does to the character and fiber of an entire nation that embraces it.
I’m from a small town in Kansas filled with good, patriotic Americans. Small town America knows their sons and daughters. Although I left more than thirty years ago, they know in very broad terms how I serve the nation; some have asked, knowing what I know and doing what I do, how can I advocate against “no holds barred” pursuit of a barbaric and brutal enemy?
It’s because I don’t think about what the enemy deserves. I think about what those who serve the nation deserve, whether in uniform or as civilians. As a leader, I think about what those who report to me deserve. As a servant of a nation of which I am willing to die or be maimed in its defense, I think about what I want from my leaders. As a father and uncle, I think about what I would ask my children and my brother’s children to do in the service of our nation.
With all my heart and soul, I believe American servicemen, civilians, and contractors deserve to serve a nation that does not ask them to set their humanity aside. A nation that does not carelessly and flippantly hoist the consequences (psychological and legal) of becoming a practitioner upon their shoulders.
What will you as an American citizen ask of your sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers? The burden of war—even under the most moral and just standards—weighs heavily on the soul. It leaves scars, seen and unseen, on many who serve. Will you ask those who serve in your name to abandon their humanity? Some politicians and a sizable number of our own citizens think so. “Yes!” they say, “The enemy does terrible things and deserves a taste of their own medicine.”
Ask yourself what we deserve! Who will you send to the torture chamber to do your bidding?
Captain Robert A. Newson is a Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) officer currently serving as Chief of the Commander’s Action Group at U.S. Southern Command. He spent twenty-two months in command of Special Operations Command (SOC)-Forward Yemen and recently led strategy and concept development for the Naval Special Warfare Command. Previously, he served as director of the Joint Interagency Task Force-Counter Terrorism. Newson is a graduate of the University of Kansas and the Naval Postgraduate School (with distinction.) He is a PhD candidate at the University of San Diego. The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government.