By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007
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.
"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.
Petraeus's reaction to the survey contrasts with the presentation it received when it was released last week. Rear Adm. Richard R. Jeffries, the Marine Corps' chief medical officer, said that the survey would be scrutinized to determine "if there is a problem here."
Protecting Iraqi civilians rather than abusing them is a major part of Petraeus's offensive to improve security in Baghdad. Their mission there, Petraeus noted in his first letter to the troops, on Feb. 10, is to "improve security for the Iraqi people."
He reinforced the point in a recent letter to U.S. military advisers working with Iraqi units, stating that: "Iraqi forces must distances themselves from the abusive practices of the former regime. . . . It is very important that we never turn a 'blind eye' to abuses, thinking that what Iraqis do with their own detainees is 'Iraqi business.' "