Petraeus draws the line on torture
The top U.S. commander in Iraq admonished his troops regarding the results of an Army survey that found that many U.S military personnel there are willing to tolerate some torture of suspects and unwilling to report abuse by comrades.As Norman Geras observes, "this is a statement that should have been made a lot earlier." The fact that it wasn't, and that a principled condemnation of torture requires such a forceful restatement now, is one more testimony to the shameful, destructive, and demoralizing effects of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld era.
"This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we -- not our enemies -- occupy the moral high ground," Army Gen. David H. Petraeus wrote in an open letter dated May 10 and posted on a military Web site.
He rejected the argument that torture is sometimes needed to quickly obtain crucial information. "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary," he stated.
The survey also found that problems such as anxiety and depression deepen with the length and frequency of tours of duty, a notable conclusion because thousands of U.S. troops recently had their tours extended from 12 to 15 months. "Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human," wrote Petraeus, who is on his third Iraq tour.
Petraeus said that he understands "firsthand" the emotions soldiers feel in Iraq, especially when they see a fellow soldier die. "Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge," he wrote. But he warned against letting those feelings lead to illegal acts. Petraeus also called on unit commanders to ensure that their soldiers follow standards. [....]
=> Mark Kleiman adds: "Gen. Petraeus’s explicit denunciation of all forms of maltreatment of captives is in the best traditions of the country and its army, going back to George Washington." Mark's reference is to a famous order issued by George Washington as the commander-in-chief of the American forces even before there was a United States, quoted and discussed by Scott Horton here.
"Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause ... for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country."One is bound to wonder whether Washington thought these practices should apply only to 'civilized' warfare--i.e., war between Europeans or those of European descent. Actually, Washington also made it clear
- George Washington, charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force, Sept. 14, 1775
[....] From the outset of their confrontation with the British monarchy, the Americans were labeled as traitors and insurgents. They were denied the status of honorable soldiers in arms and were treated shamefully. Even as Washington issued the order quoted at the outset, he knew that all 31 of the prisoners taken by the British at Bunker Hill had died in captivity, many under unsettling circumstances. Of the 2,607 Americans taken prisoner at the capitulation of Ft Washington, all but 800 had died in captivity by 1778. The continental press was filled with accounts of the brutal and inhuman treatment of Americans taken by the British throughout this period.
Against a loud public outcry of "eye for an eye," George Washington stood fast. He made it a point of fundamental honor (and that was his word) that the Americans would not only hold dearly to the laws of war, they would define a new law of war that reflected the humanitarian principles for which the new Republic had risen. [....]
Following the Battle of Trenton in 1776, Washington set firm rules for the treatment of prisoners in American custody. "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands," he wrote. [....]
that he took this approach in the end because of his experience in the wilderness, and the lesson he learned there: soldiers who mistreated prisoners, who took up cruel practices, were bad and unruly soldiers - the discipline and morale of the entire fighting force was undermined by such conduct. For Washington, the issues were clear on both a moral and practical level, and his guidance was given with firm conviction.--Jeff Weintraub
Washington's rules on the treatment of prisoners were doctrine of the United States Army for 227 years. [....]
Commanding General David H. Petraeus' Letter about Values
MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE - IRAQ
APO AE 09342-1400
10 May 2007
Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we - not our enemies - occupy the moral high ground. This strategy has shown results in recent months. Al Qaeda's indiscriminate attacks, for example, have finally started to turn a substantial proportion of the Iraqi population against it.
In view of this, I was concerned by the results of a recently released survey conducted last fall in Iraq that revealed an apparent unwillingness on the part of some US personnel to report illegal actions taken by fellow members of their units. The study also indicated that a small percentage of those surveyed may have mistreated noncombatants. This survey should spur reflection on our conduct in combat.
I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq. I also know firsthand the bonds between members of the "brotherhood of the close fight." Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge. As hard as it might be, however, we must not let these emotions lead us - or our comrades in arms - to commit hasty, illegal actions. In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.
Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone "talk;" however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact, our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.
We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings. Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human. If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.
We should use the survey results to renew our commitment to the values and standards that make us who we are and to spur re-examination of these issues. Leaders, in particular, need to discuss these issues with their troopers - and, as always, they need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct. We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make.
Thanks for what you continue to do. It is an honor to serve with each of you.
David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army