Iraq war study finds questionable ethics, high stress among American soldiers

  U.S. soldiers on duty in Iraq (AP)

In a survey of U.S. troops in combat in Iraq, less than half of Marines and a little more than half of Army soldiers said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian.

 More than 40 percent support the idea of torture in some cases, and 10 percent reported personally abusing Iraqi civilians, the Pentagon said Friday in what it called its first ethics study of troops at the war front. Units exposed to the most combat were chosen for the study, officials said.

"It is disappointing," said analyst John Pike of the think tank. "But anybody who is surprised by it doesn’t understand war. … This is about combat stress."

The military has seen a number of high-profile incidents of alleged abuse in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the killings of 24 civilians by Marines in Haditha, the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and the slaying of her family in Iraq and the sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

"I don’t want to, for a minute, second-guess the behavior of any person in the military — look at the kind of moral dilemma you are putting people in," Christopher Preble of the libertarian Cato Institute think tank, said of the mission in Iraq. "There’s a real tension between using too much force, which generally means using force to protect yourself, and using too little and therefore exposing yourself to greater risk."

The overall study was the fourth in a series done by a special mental health advisory team since 2003 aimed at assessing the well-being of forces serving in Iraq.

Officials said the teams visited Iraq last August to October, talking to troops, health care providers and chaplains.

The study team also found that long and repeated deployments were increasing troop mental health problems.

But Maj. Gen. Gale Pollock, the Army’s acting surgeon general, said the team’s "most critical" findings were on ethics.

"They looked under every rock, and what they found was not always easy to look at," said Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health.

Findings included:

  • Sixty-two percent of soldiers and 66 percent of Marines said that they knew someone seriously injured or killed, or that a member of their team had become a casualty.
  • The 2006 adjusted rate of suicides per 100,000 soldiers was 17.3 soldiers, lower than the 19.9 rate reported in 2005.
  • Only 47 percent of the soldiers and 38 percent of Marines said noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect.
  • About a third of troops said they had insulted or cursed at civilians in their presence.
  • About 10 percent of soldiers and Marines reported mistreating civilians or damaging property when it was not necessary. Mistreatment includes hitting or kicking a civilian.
  • Forty-four percent of Marines and 41 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to save the life of a soldier or Marine.
  • Thirty-nine percent of Marines and 36 percent of soldiers said torture should be allowed to gather important information from insurgents.

Lt. Col. Scott Fazekas, a Marine Corps spokesman, said officials were looking closely at the ethics results, taken from a questionnaire survey of 1,320 soldiers and 447 Marines.

"The Marine Corps takes this issue of battlefield ethics very seriously," he said. "We are examining the study and its recommendations and we’ll find ways to improve our approach."

Pollock said officials concluded from the overall study that "there’s a robust system in place to provide mental health care, but issues continue with the stress of a combat deployment."

Based on the findings, officials have revised training programs to focus more on Army values, suicide prevention, battlefield ethics and behavioral health awareness, Pollock said.

The study team said shorter deployments or longer intervals between deployments would give soldiers and Marines a better chance "to reset mentally" before returning to combat. The Pentagon last month announced a policy that extends tours of duty for all active duty Army troops from a year to 15 months. Pollock acknowledged that was "going to be a stress" on troops.

Marine tours are seven months, one likely reason that soldier morale was lower than Marine morale, she said.

Pike contrasted Iraq’s campaign to World War I, saying: "The trenches were pretty stressful, but a unit would only be up at the front for a few months and then get rotated to the rear. There’s no rear in Iraq; you’re subject to combat stress for your entire tour."


On the Net:

The redacted report is at


  1. KayInMaine

    …I bet someone in the Bush Regime will give out a Medal of Honor, because hey, causing mental stress and chaos is something the Regime honors and spreads wherever they are!

    So sad. I’m so tired of this illegal occupation and all it’s consequences. Bush is the worst thing to happen to our country since liver and beets.

  2. justanothercoverup

    To me, the stress and general welfare of our troops is appalling. Everyone who has ever read one word I’ve written is aware I’m a vehement critic of the Bush administration, oppose the War in Iraq, and favor the immediate impeachment of this President and Vice-President. That said, I guess it’s time to get controversial:

    In consideration of all of the above, if we are not able to impeach, indict, or somehow remove this President from office – as Americans, it is our duty to somehow help those troops who are virtually marooned in Iraq. Bush went into this war with too few troops, the Army is almost broken, and with all of the money we’ve been pouring into this war – much of our equipment in Iraq is in desperate need of repair and/or replacement.The level of corruption in the sub-contractors and war-machine has given us much less for our tax dollars, and the waste has been horrific.

    If another conflict should arise anywhere in the world (a legitimate incident where American power and intervention would be in our true national interests.)we do not have the troops and equipment to deploy, and realistically, the United States is probably more vulnerable to attack here or abroad than at any previous time in our modern history. Bush’s mismanagement of his illegal war has wrecked havoc upon our military – and because of politics, he is too thought-impaired or stubborn to understand that the troops, America’s sons and daughters, desperately need relief and reinforcements. To extend deployment times to help maintain his “surge” places the troops who are there at far greater risk for fatigue related deaths – and none of us have any idea how high or low those figures may be, or how much they may increase because of longer deployment times. (Or higher Iraqi civilian deaths due to the same fatigue.)

    Any sitting President that has the gall to keep extending the tour of duty for those that do die in the name of America without increasing the size of the Army is playing politics with their lives. We cannot expect the same men and women to keep fighting a war they didn’t ask for – and to allow them to fall in such disrepair and suffer excessive battle-fatigue because of over-deployment is simply unconscionable! The President hasn’t reintroduced the draft because he knows it’s political suicide, and those upper-class families that watch their own sons and daughters being deployed to Iraq would exert a pressure on this President far worse than it is now – but what other solution exists if this President keeps defying Congress and keeps running this illegal war?

    Will the United States become so weak militarily that if there is another conflict, we have to resort to nuclear weapons? GWB’s war has weakened America, and if he doesn’t wake-up and stop this crazy war without replenishing the military and it’s equipment – who knows what awaits us around the corner…

  3. SEAL

    Every time this subject comes up, the same misconception is voiced. The strength of our military, in other words our ability to inflict damage upon an enemy or defend ourselves regardless of location, is not measured by the size or condition of our ground forces. It is America’s naval force, air power, and technology that makes us the baddest boys on the block.

    The size and current sorry state of our ground force certainly diminishes their ability to do do what it is that they do and would make any military engagement requiring a ground force invasion or occupation less effective. That is presently being demonstrated. But it would have little or nothing to do with our winning or losing or defending. Lead by the navy, the combined air power we have can be delivered anywhere in the world to destroy any threat at any time. That does not include the use of nuclear weapons.

    Nuclear is a last resort weapon. It is almost impossible to imagine it becoming necessary. Those nations possessing nuclear weapons cannot contemplate launching them against us. That would be suicide for the history of their entire culture. Our response would leave no trace that they or their way of life had ever existed. Therefore, the idea that some lunatic who was not afraid of dying would launch a nuclear attack is baseless. He couldn’t make a point if the point was gone.

    The present nature of warfare is the use of air power to kill the enemy and destroy their ability to inflict damage to us. Right there is where the conflict is won or lost. The ground force comes in behind that to finish the job, root out the diehards, clean up the mess, and occupy. That was the process in Iraq. The mistake, as we all know, was insufficient ground forces which allowed the country to establish an insurgency that became a training ground for terrorist type tactics and then sink into a civil war that, now, cannot be stopped.

    But the fact that our ground forces are over stressed, under equipped, and under sized does not mean that we do not have the means to protect ourselves or wage an effective military conflict anywhere in the world. It only means we would have trouble moving in after we had won.

  4. gene

    And just who is the f**king blame for all this “stress”? Could it be Mr. “mission accomplished” and his gain of butt kissing lovers. Lies, liars, murderers all in the name of democracy (sure) and Santa Clause is real. Oil, energy, greed, power, money, control…..evil.

    If you havn’t notice Iraq is bascially a thocracy, let God (their God) collect the taxes. Some may desire more freedom from their particular insanity but not in the numbers to change their society (within a few years) in to anything resembly democracy. This so called war was started with lies coming out of the mouth of an idiot, a very dangereous idiot because he is president of this pathetic nation of clueless, brain-dead americans.

    Each day now the cancer of humanity grows killing this planet and the innocent all in the name of something ie. God, democracy, freedom. or shit mabe one day even Santa himself will be reason enough to kill or hurt someone. What a joke this world has become.

  5. Sandy Price

    It is the movement that brought him into office and gave him total control over the American Government. In 2000, America was too busy trying to locate more actions to blame Clinton. The religious right came up with a leader who made promises to Pat Robertson to bring America back under Christian control.

    The timing of 9/11 gave him the permission to have total control over all of us and nobody gave a damn!

    Look to the lazy voters who bought Bush’s agenda!

    JAC. You have nailed it again 100%. Bush is using our soldiers to build his own failing legacy and he has another year and a half to do it. The lazy voters cannot face another impeachment because they lowered the bar trying to punish Clinton for his lack of morals.

    Because they lost the impeachment in the Senate they want us all to pay for his and our lack of morals. I fear this Christian morality movement more than I fear Al Qaeda. History will show more slaughter under Christianity has been proven than anything else.

    Our boys should not be put into this position and a pull out of America from the Middle East is the only moral action we need. The American voters are not thinking about Americans and are following the Christian Coalition to change every one of us into weak and ignorant followers of the leader.

    How will it end? I fear very badly.

  6. KayInMaine

    …the REAL commanders on the ground told the Commander Guy in the White House that our soldiers are suffering mentally and the Commander Guy said, “Let them eat cake and get out of my office!”, and then said, “Tell my underlings in the House & Senate to not fund our troops either like we have for years now! Let the bastards eat cake cause it’s cheap!”.

    Spit. I bet he did.

  7. Carl Nemo

    I’m perplexed as to why they are surprised at the results of their surveys. Our modern military does not represent an honest cross-section of America and it’s values at this point in history. The people that are associated with todays modern military are professionals either regular service personnel, reservists or National Guardsmen. They’ve joined with purpose and intent i.e., career opportunities, the promise of future pensions etc.

    The purpose of our military is to defend our nation and in recent times, evidently to launch pre-emptive offensive wars of aggression for politically expedient purposes. The infantry is referred to as the Queen of Battles and as anyone who’s served in the Army or the Corps they should know the spirit of the bayonet, which is “to kill”…! So whether a G.I. is going house to house conducting the business of war or pushing the fire button on his control stick to lay down chain-gun fire they are in the business of killing human beings plain and simple. It’s the dirtiest, meanest business on earth. There’s nothing glorious about it either. Only fools and very immature people would say so after having gone through genuine combat situations.

    What’s my point…?! Since we have no draftees, with America tapping into a broad base of America’s youth to go to war representing many walks of life, belief systems etc., we end up with a military with a true “hard-style” edge to it. We are in it to win, but if the combatants are professional they have no vested interest in seeing it end because the waging of war is what they do and what they do best. Of course many reservists would say otherwise, and now no doubt realize they’ve been caught up in something far greater than they ever imagined with endless re-deployments, tour extensions etc. The pension doesn’t look all that good to them anymore especially if they’ve suffered debilitating wounds that prevent them from going back to their old jobs, careers etc.

    When all of America’s youth are tapped on the shoulder to go to war via a draft then it affects everyone across America. Then when the caskets start arriving anywhere and everywhere enmasse’ throughout the nation, people pay attention ever moreso closely to what their fearless leaders are proferring concerning wars based on adventurism and resource grabbing such as in Iraq.

    The longer the few are tapped and re-tapped on the shoulder to deploy and re-deploy the harder their world view will become towards the enemy as well as the innocent civilian non-combatants. These men are suffering from something that was well-catalogued from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Nam. They are suffering from psycho-neurosis; or hardened thoughts, and an every-hardening world view of their situation as combatants in Iraq. Their condition will not improve and in fact without treatment it will get worse once they return home. Many families are currently suffering or will suffer due to this war-inflicted psychological trauma.

    We have an incredibly selfish, self-aggrandizing leadership not only in the Executive Branch but at the heads of our services. Many of them are retirement eligible. They need to remember “duty, honor, country”…stand tall, and tender their resignations enmasse’ in the face of this ongoing criminal war enterprise, and forget about connecting with cush MIC jobs upon retirement.
    Carl Nemo…**==

  8. erika morgan

    So 44% of our men freely admit to being too insane to remain in the military representing America abroad and are obviously too insane for our streets at home. What a tragedy and waste of humanity! For God’s sake it needs to stop.