Saturday, May 05, 2007

Army ethics

The Washington Post today reports on an Army study showing a lack of ethics as well as an increase in mental health problems among the soldiers fighting the futile war in Iraq.

More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.

In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.

About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey -- conducted in Iraq last fall -- reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.

Incredibly, in a statement that would be hilarious if it wasn't so blindingly stupid, the Army's Surgeon General tries to spin this as good news:

"What it speaks to is the leadership that the military is providing, because they're not acting on those thoughts," she said. "They're not torturing the people."

Except, of course, when they are.

As reported in the Post, the Army survey apparently cites the over-extension of US forces as a factor in the increase of mental health problems also cited in the report, but doesn't offer insights into the "why" of the ethical lapses mentioned above.

I have two theories.

The first is that soldier's attitudes reflect those of the American public generally, let's call it the 24 effect, the belief that, as we see weekly with Jack Bauer, torture can be necessary and effective in some circumstances. That every non-armchair interrogator disagrees with this belief is beside the point. Torture is ingrained as acceptable, sometimes.

My second theory is that the soldiers are reflecting the feelings of their leadership. Regardless of what the Army manual says, soldiers are people, and as such are adept at reading between the lines of their superiors' instructions. When every superior up to and including the president treats torture with the mealy-mouthed wink-wink, nudge-nudge of administration weasel words about "enhanced interrogation techniques" do we expect soldiers to ignore that reality?

A fish, as they say, rots from the head down.

With the Bush administration and, as is increasingly obvious from recent investigations of the DoD, GAO, (and even Fish and Wildlife for Chrissake!), we're dealing with some very stinky fish.

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