For Mitchell I have much sympathy — senior leaders came to this veteran Special Forces operator and said he was the only man for the job, then offered him a fortune to make an ill-conceived program a reality.
The hard truth is, if I had been asked to torture, I may have done it myself. A soldier who fights for his country is willing to sacrifice himself, and this can sometimes mean his values, when his superiors tell him it is necessary. We are conditioned to follow and to fight, to “man up” in Mitchell’s phrasing.
But a systematic program of abuse blessed off on and defended at the highest levels — where KSM is waterboarded again and again, and “rectally fed” — what is this? This has no place in information gathering or manliness. It’s dishonest to say it was not gratuitous.
I have no doubt that politics have poisoned the debate here and like Mitchell, both parties have sickened me, as a citizen, as a soldier, on various occasions with their cowardice. But it is a mistake to say the disagreements show ISIS that we are divided and therefore weak; it shows them that we are divided on torturing and abusing prisoners, a tactic ISIS doesn’t have qualms about. It shows them that we are a democracy that respects human rights, and that many of us believe that in order to tear apart and defeat ISIS one thing we must do is offer, unequivocally, an ethical, alternative view on how to treat prisoners.
I thank God my superiors never asked me to go down the dark road with detainees. Like others in my field, at the beginning I was eager to walk the line, especially when dealing with someone who had harmed civilians and children. Were it not for the wisdom of the warrant officers who set the high standards in the units in which I served — who enforced the law — I might have ended up next to Mitchell on Fox News, bending my words in service of a short-sighted and immoral methodology. I have all sympathy for those who were trained to do the right thing and then ordered to do otherwise.