Bart Newman grappled with existential questions in Iraq, then published the answers
Published in 2010 Georgia Rising Stars magazine
on February 25, 2010
Updated on October 2, 2019
While serving a year-long tour in Iraq, Bart Newman learned that nothing brings more clarity to life than looking death in the eye. In his book, Because of Baghdad: What a father would say about life, if he didn’t come home to say it, he answers a question that weighed on his mind while on the frontlines: What really matters?
“It’s easy in life to get pulled by so many people in different directions that you look around and think, ‘Why am I doing this?’” says Newman, an in-house attorney with ICx Technologies’ Atlanta office. “Iraq focuses you a bit.”
As a captain in the U.S. Army JAG Corps, Newman advised the staff of one of the highest commanders in Iraq, Gen. John “Viper” Vines. He also served on the judging panel for the Article 5 Tribunals, determining whether incarcerated individuals were lawful combatants (i.e., members of the Iraqi Army), unlawful combatants or innocent civilians. “What do you do when there’s bad evidence [and you have] every belief that, as soon as you let a person go, they’re going to go kill American soldiers?” he asks. “It’s a very difficult moment of conscience. A lot of times we had to recommend—and this was really difficult—to let somebody go.”
Confronted with the weight of such decisions, and his own mortality, Newman began to keep a journal—which eventually became a book—as a way to make sense of his experiences. “Even at night sleeping, when mortar comes and lands on your bunk, you’re very conscious of the fact that you’re not promised anything,” he says. “Because of that, I started writing down some thoughts that I would want my little girl and my wife to know if I didn’t come home.”
Newman enlisted in the Army after 9/11, during his second year of law school at the University of Georgia.
“We were about to fight an asymmetric war, where the people you’re fighting basically don’t wear uniforms,” says Newman, who went through Officer Basic School, JAG Corps training and then Airborne School before deploying. “Under the Geneva Conventions and the rules of law that American forces are bound by, it’s very difficult to determine who the enemy is.”
He landed in Baghdad in January 2005, eight months after the Abu Ghraib scandal. One of his duties was inspecting detention facilities and ensuring that “all the legal rules for how you’re supposed to treat detainees—allowing access to the Koran, maintaining evidence of why they were being detained—were being followed.” He was impressed with the young soldiers who oversaw the camps: “Oftentimes, at their own risk, they were making sure everything was done right.”
He also reviewed and made legal recommendations regarding where and when the U.S. was planning to fire.
But his highest-stakes decisions were made in the military tribunals. He remembers traveling to Camp Bucca, where the questioning was done: “All you see is desert in this huge, enormous detention facility, keeping some very bad people in the middle of nowhere.” And there, he would decide, with two other attorneys, whether to label prisoners innocent or unlawful combatants.
Because of Baghdad was published in fall 2007, and brought a wave of publicity—from the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, speaking tours and several local papers. Newman donates the book’s profits to the children of service members who died in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Newman also supports the military through his day job, which he assumed in December after spending several years in private practice, and where he has both legal and business development responsibilities. ICx Technologies develops surveillance and detection equipment for American military bases. “Taking the job gave me the chance to directly support soldiers who are deployed right now,” he says.
A member of the inactive reserves, Newman hopes one day to return to Baghdad.
“If 10 or 20 years from now I see a vibrant, growing Iraq, and to know that maybe I helped play a tiny part in it, that would be really neat,” he says. “I’d love to go back there and say, ‘My friends and I did the best we could.’”