BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The U.S. military commander in Iraq told his troops to fight by the rules after a Pentagon survey found many soldiers and Marines back torture and would not report colleagues for killing or injuring civilians. “This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we — not our enemies — occupy the moral high ground,” General David Petraeus wrote in a letter dated May 10.
Petraeus, who took command in February to oversee a troop “surge” aimed at securing Baghdad, said the argument that torture can elicit quick information was “wrong”. “Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful or necessary,” he said in the one-page letter, which was obtained by Reuters.
The Pentagon survey of ethics, released last week, showed that only 40 percent of marines and 55 percent of U.S. Army soldiers deployed in Iraq said they would report a fellow serviceman for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi.
It also said well over one-third of soldiers and marines believe torture should be allowed to obtain information that could save the lives of U.S. troops or gain knowledge about Iraqi insurgents.
Petraeus said that while seeing a “fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger and a desire for immediate revenge”, all troops “must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect.”
Claims of U.S. mistreatment of Iraqi detainees and civilians have shadowed American forces in Iraq — from revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 to reports of the Nov. 19, 2005, killing of 24 Iraqi civilians by Marines in Haditha.
According to the survey, conducted between Aug. 28 and Oct. 3, 2006, about 10 percent of the 1,320 soldiers and 447 Marines questioned said they had mistreated civilians, either through physical violence or damage to their personal property.
It also showed increasing rates of mental health problems for troops on extended or multiple deployments. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has extended tours for U.S. soldiers in Iraq to up to 15 months instead of one year.
In the letter, Petraeus, who is on his third tour of duty, said that “while we are warriors, we are also all human beings”, and urged his troops that if they felt stress they should talk to “your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.”