Saturday, May 05, 2007

As It Should Be

ABC News - The Pentagon's first-ever survey of the battlefield ethics of American soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq has uncovered troubling findings about their attitudes toward Iraqi noncombatants, and the mental health risks raised by the continued redeployment of troops to Iraq.

Only a third of Marines and roughly half of the soldiers surveyed said they believed that Iraqi noncombatants should be treated with dignity. Up to 40 percent of Marines and soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the life of a colleague.

For the first time, this year's survey was conducted jointly with the Marine Corps. More than 1,300 soldiers and 450 Marines were surveyed last fall for the assessment. The questions on battlefield ethics were included at the request of the then-top U.S. general in Iraq, Gen. George Casey.

One in 10 soldiers and Marines surveyed for the study said they had mistreated Iraqi noncombatants. Mistreatment was defined as damaging or destroying property when not necessary, or hitting or kicking a noncombatant when not necessary. Forty percent of Marines and 55 percent of Army soldiers said they would report a member of their unit for unethical behavior that included killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

At a Pentagon briefing, Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, acting Army surgeon general, expressed understanding of the high levels of anger among some troops that may have led to the troubling answers on the ethics front.

"These men and women have been seeing their friends injured, and I think that having that thought is normal. But what it speaks to is the leadership that the military is providing, because they're not acting on those thoughts," he said. "They're not torturing the people. And I think it speaks very well to the level of training that we have in the military today."

One of the study's authors, Army Col. Carl Castro, believes soldiers and Marines answered the ethical question on the survey honestly. But he said they are also astute enough not to act out their feelings because "there's nothing gained for them to do that. … You know, yes, we may think it. We may want to do it. But we don't do that because that jeopardizes ourselves or the selves of our other teammates."

Rear Adm. Richard Jeffries said the answers in the survey pertaining to ethics had raised awareness within the Marine Corps, "and they're looking very closely at this, with several groups and several teams … to see what this means and what we may do differently if there is a problem here."