A strong majority of troops in Iraq disavow the use of torture, even to save the life of their fellow soldiers, a new study shows. Only 10% in the anonymous survey admit to even mild forms of abuse, such as unnecessarily destroying private property. One might consider that good news, but the Washington Post takes the glass-one-third-empty approach in reporting it:
More than one-third of U.S. soldiers in Iraq surveyed by the Army said they believe torture should be allowed if it helps gather important information about insurgents, the Pentagon disclosed yesterday. Four in 10 said they approve of such illegal abuse if it would save the life of a fellow soldier.
In addition, about two-thirds of Marines and half the Army troops surveyed said they would not report a team member for mistreating a civilian or for destroying civilian property unnecessarily. "Less than half of Soldiers and Marines believed that non-combatants should be treated with dignity and respect," the Army report stated.
About 10 percent of the 1,767 troops in the official survey -- conducted in Iraq last fall -- reported that they had mistreated civilians in Iraq, such as kicking them or needlessly damaging their possessions.
Army researchers "looked under every rock, and what they found was not always easy to look at," said S. Ward Casscells, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. The report noted that the troops' statements are at odds with the "soldier's rules" promulgated by the Army, which forbid the torture of enemy prisoners and state that civilians must be treated humanely.
What they found would likely reflect what a similar survey would show here. In fact, it speaks to the discipline of the military that while a third of troops approved of torture in the abstract as a means to prevent an imminent attack, almost none of them put that into practice. In order to get to the ten percent mark, the survey had to include kicking people and breaking possessions, which hardly qualifies in anyone's mind as "torture".
The Post reports that this substantiates the notion that torture is widespread and not just found in isolated incidents in places like Abu Ghraib. That's nonsense. Getting only 10% of soldiers to admit they may have kicked someone or have broken up some furniture does not mean that our troops have reopened Saddam's torture chambers under new management, as Ted Kennedy once put it. It shows that torture, at least in the Army, is very isolated and not tolerated by the vast majority of our troops.
Let me put it this way. The level of support for firm timetables to get out of Iraq, according to Rasmussen, has hit 57%, less than that of troops eschewing torture under all circumstances. Yet war opponents claim that America has made clear its opposition to the war's continuance. Why is 57% dispositive for anti-war sentiment, but 10% dispositive for torture?
The Army has reacted to this survey by expanding training on ethics, which is an appropriate response. We want the troops to maintain strict discipline, and it looks like they have done so except in isolated incidents. In the meantime, perhaps the Post and war critics can receive expanded training on mathematics and statistics.