Tortured Souls

In the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Army Major General (Retired) Antonio Taguba and Marine Lt Colonel (Retired) Scott Cooper review two memoirs about torture that the authors of the memoirs participated in while assigned to the Mid-East in the “war on terror.” These memoirs are relevant reads for anyone concerned about the uses of torture, its morality, its questionable effectiveness and its adverse impact on our strategic interests. In this blog post I wish to focus on the review itself. The authors of the reviews, both seasoned veterans, are deeply concerned that then candidate, now president, Donald Trump, forcefully advocated the resumption and increase of torture on captured combatants and suspects.

General Taguba and Colonel Cooper quote Trump’s response to a question during the primary campaign on what he would do if officials refused to torture detainees or to “take out their families”? Trump replied “They’re not going to refuse me – believe me… If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

Taguba and Cooper write: “We hope that Trump is wrong. To prevent a return to the darkest days of the so-called war on terror and the Iraq war, military officers, intelligence officials, enlisted people and contractors must refuse to carry out any illegal orders they receive – even from the president himself. Doing so will serve the national interest and their own self-interest.” Why their self-interest? The authors observe “the damage wreaked by torture is not limited to the victims; it also extends to the souls of the torturers.”

Every person in a sensitive position will sooner or later be tested. Do we do the right thing or do we cave in and obey harmful orders? Research and history confirm this is not an easy test to pass. The social and psychological pressures can be enormous. I hope my book “Intelligent Disobedience” will help you and your team prepare for that test. I hope you prepare now before you are tested; at the moment of being tested there is no “do-over”. Prepare now. Ace the test. Have your team ace the test. The souls you save may be your own.

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