But we are never going to move past this. Horton wrote this story because Hickman came forward and reported his concerns. As Andrew Sullivan noted, this isn't the first time being a good soldier has meant being a truthful one. For his service at the camp, Hickman was selected as Guantanamo's "NCO of the Quarter" and was given a commendation medal (a medal for which he was recommended by Bumgarner). When he returned to the United States, he was promoted to staff sergeant. When Barack Obama became president, Hickman decided he couldn't keep silent any longer. As he told Horton: "I thought that with a new administration and new ideas I could actually come forward. ... It was haunting me."
Hickman first took his concerns to Denbeaux at Seton Hall University Law School. Professor Mark Denbeaux's son Josh agreed to represent Hickman. Hickman didn't want to speak to the press, but he felt that "silence was just wrong." The important thing here is that Hickman and the other guards came forward with their suspicions of torture for the same reason Gen. Antonio Taguba and Gen. Barry McCaffrey and countless top military lawyers have spoken out early and often against torture. Why did they do so? Hint: not because they love the enemy or the spotlight. It's because people in the military understand better than any of us what it means to ask a soldier to be involved in abusing prisoners.
As Richard Schragger wrote in Slate in 2006:
Military lawyers are not only concerned about how the enemy will treat our troops. They are also concerned about how our troops will treat the enemy—and not just because that treatment might be morally offensive and/or strategically unwise. As one of my colleagues—himself a JAG officer—put it, the Geneva Conventions are so honored by military lawyers because they protect our own troops' humanity. The conventions prevent higher-ups from ordering subordinates to engage in repugnant acts, and they offer soldiers on the ground some basis for differentiating legal acts of killing and destruction from criminal acts of killing and destruction.
I think about this every time I hear someone—usually on a comment thread—claim that if he had just 15 minutes, KSM, and a lobster fork, he'd get himself a confession. We don't want that guy in the military, and frankly, neither does the military. Our soldiers object to torture not because they want to pamper terrorists but because they want to protect us from our own worst selves. The third big lie the media have perpetrated on the American public as we cheerfully debate the "ticking time bomb" scenario and the possible efficacy of torture is that our soldiers remain unaffected when asked to participate in such abuse, or to lie about it after the fact.
I have no reason to doubt the investigative work of Horton or Denbeaux's team and every reason to believe the Obama administration's investigation of Hickman's story was less than exhaustive. But above and beyond the implausible narrative constructed by NCIS and the bizarre throat autopsies on the deceased, four military guards at Guantanamo felt compelled to come forward and report their concerns about prisoner abuse, and nobody seems to think it warrants any discussion. Members of the military deserve our honor and respect. And one of the ways we can show that is by paying attention when soldiers raise questions about the honor of the military. Even if we've learned to sleep at night despite the fact we have tortured, we should spare one toss or turn for those soldiers who cannot.