Soldiers in Iraq
One in three American soldiers in Iraq thinks torture is sometimes justified
WHEN the horrific abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib was first revealed three years ago, George Bush dismissed the scandal as the work of just a few “bad apples”. Such actions did not “represent the values of the United States of America”, the
president insisted. But according to a Pentagon survey released on May 4th, more than one in three American soldiers in Iraq would condone torture in some circumstances.
Of the 1,767 troops questioned by the Pentagon's mental-health advisory team last September, four in ten (41% of soldiers and 44% of marines) believed that torture should be permitted if it would save the life of a fellow soldier or
marine. Almost as many (36% of soldiers and 39% of marines) said torture should be allowed to extract important information about Iraqi insurgents. Less than half (47% of soldiers and 38% of marines) felt that non-combatants should be treated with
dignity and respect, as required by the Geneva Conventions.
The number of troops who admitted mistreating Iraqi civilians was nevertheless small. Although nearly 33% acknowledged insulting or swearing at non-combatants, only around 10% admitted unnecessarily damaging or destroying property, and
just 4% of soldiers (7% of marines) confessed to hitting or kicking non-combatants “when it was not necessary”. No questions were asked about more serious abuse or torture. Increasing the length of tours in Iraq was found to make soldiers more likely to
Although the vast majority of troops said they had been trained in how to behave towards non-combatants, nearly a third said their own unit officers had not made it clear that maltreatment was unacceptable. More worrying, only around
half said they would be willing to report a member of their unit for killing or injuring an innocent non-combatant; an even smaller number would report a comrade for lesser abuse.
The more often and the longer that soldiers were deployed in Iraq, the more likely they were to suffer mental-health problems and to mistreat civilians. About one in five was found to be suffering from depression, anxiety or stress; 20%
were planning divorce or separation; 72 American soldiers in Iraq have committed suicide since the invasion.
Despite the soldiers' attitudes toward torture, Major-General Gale Pollock, the army's acting surgeon-general, felt that the report underlined the leadership the military was providing “because they're not acting on those thoughts.
They're not torturing people.” But General David Petraeus, America's top commander in Iraq, was “very concerned” by its findings. They indicated “willingness of a fair proportion of soldiers and marines to not report the illegal actions, if you will, of