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Sending more troops to abuse Iraqis?

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah 

“One in three U.S. troops backs torture” was the headline we all read earlier this month. The article accompanying it detailed the shocking findings of a survey carried out by a team of army experts who studied the mental health of about 2,000 U.S. Army soldiers and Marines in Iraq between August and October 2006.

The soldiers surveyed said they’d back torture if this saves a colleague. But will parading Iraqi detainees naked with a collar around their neck or attaching electrodes to their body parts save an American life? Will killing innocent Iraqi civilians, like what happened in Haditha in 2005, bring a dead Marine to life? And most importantly, how can urinating on a dead Haditha victim make anybody feel any better? 

Many Western news agencies said it was brave of the Pentagon to publish the shocking findings. But the fact is that the results of the survey have been censored, and were declassified after they have been leaked to the press. 

According to an article on the Telegraph, one in ten soldiers surveyed admitted mistreating innocent civilians, either through physical violence, which includes hitting or kicking, or damage to their personal property when it was unnecessary to do so. Less than half of Marines and more than half of Army soldiers said they wouldn’t report colleagues for wounding or killing civilians. About 40% said they support the idea of torture, with only a few saying that non-combatants should be treated “with dignity and respect”. Conversely, 17% thought "all non-combatants should be treated as insurgents".

The U.S. Army’s acting surgeon general, Maj. Gen Gale Pollock, tried to defend the Pentagon by praising the “leadership that the military is providing” because the soldiers aren’t acting on their violent thoughts. 

“They are not torturing people,” he said. 

But how can this statement assuage the fears of Iraqi civilians? 

How can the Pentagon make sure that those disturbed soldiers won’t torture civilians? How can it make sure that its troops do not abuse or kill Iraqi civilians after seeing one of their colleagues getting killed in a bomb attack? 

Facts on the ground suggest that the Iraq war is messing with the minds of the soldiers serving there. Suicide rates are higher among army combat troops than Marines, whose tours of duty are half the length. According to the mental health investigation, serving a 12-month tour in Iraq could make the best of men go nuts. The team recommended that the soldiers would be both less sad, and less bad, if their tours of duty were made shorter. 

Instead of considering this recommendation, the “leadership of the military”, apparently in a state of denial, extended tours of duty form 12 months to 15 months in order to help Bush’s “surge” strategy in Baghdad, which has so far failed to reduce Iraqi or American death tolls amid calls by military officers that they need even more troops in other parts of Iraq. 

Sending more troops to Iraq for long tours of duty while extending the tours of soldiers already serving in the war-torn country could endanger the lives of Iraqi civilians rather than save them. Ironically, the move complies with all the actions of a U.S. administration that has done everything it can to circumvent the Geneva Conventions: classifying its enemies, or those supposed to be its enemies, as "enemy combatants"; detaining them for months without charges and seeking exemptions for the CIA from anti-torture legislation.

 

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