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American Forces Press Service

Petraeus Urges Troops to Adhere to Ethical Standards

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2007 – Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, is urging troops in his command to take the “moral high ground” when dealing with insurgents and the Iraqi people.

In response to the results of the latest mental health survey of troops in Iraq, Petraeus sent a letter to the troops yesterday, stressing that the key to securing Iraq is building trust by adhering to values and ethical standards.

“Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right,” Petraeus wrote in the letter, which is posted on the Multinational Force Iraq Web site. “Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy.”

The survey, the fourth iteration of the Mental Health Advisory Team, for the first time included questions about battlefield ethics in its survey of soldiers and Marines serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The survey was conducted in August and September, but the findings were released May 4.

The survey found that only 47 percent of soldiers and 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect. More than one-third of all soldiers and Marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine, and less than half of soldiers or Marines said they would report a team member for unethical behavior.

Also, 10 percent of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating noncombatants or damaging property when it was not necessary. In the report, mistreating noncombatants was defined as either stealing from a noncombatant, destroying or damaging property when it wasn’t necessary, or hitting or kicking a noncombatant.

In his letter, Petraeus said he was concerned by the results of the survey, which he said should spur reflection on the conduct of U.S. forces in combat. Petraeus said he fully understands the emotions troops experience in Iraq, especially when fellow servicemembers are killed or injured.

“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,” he wrote. “In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.”

When announcing the survey’s findings at the Pentagon May 4, Army Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the service’s acting surgeon general, said that anger is a normal reaction for troops who witness traumatic events in Iraq. However, it’s important to note that the troops who had these thoughts did not act on them and actually mistreat any noncombatants, she said.

Petraeus wrote in the letter that torture is not only illegal, but is also ineffective at obtaining information from enemy combatants. The Army field manual on human intelligence collector operations, which was published in 2006, shows that legal techniques work effectively and humanely in eliciting information, he stated.

“We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies,” he wrote. “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.”

Petraeus also emphasized that stress caused by lengthy deployments, which the survey found is increasingly becoming a problem, is not a sign of weakness. “If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert,” he urged the troops.

The survey results provide an opportunity for U.S. troops to renew their commitment to their values and standards, and demonstrate the need for leaders to set the example and ensure proper conduct, Petraeus said in the letter.

“We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make,” he wrote.

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