Emphasizing Ethics Even as Bullets Fly
The Haditha case undermines U.S. credibility
BAGHDAD--Soldiers and marines have long joked darkly that their job is pretty simple: Kill people and break things. In Iraq, a broken country wracked by insurgency and sectarian violence, the mission of the American forces presents a far more complex predicament. Given the damage and killing that inevitably accompany war, how do you fight in a way that allows the construction of a peaceful nation?
Counterinsurgency is the military's latest answer--and that involves more than military operations against insurgent leaders, as was successfully done in the attack last week that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi and top associates. As important, it involves consciously trying to win a degree of public trust among Iraqis, even if not their hearts and minds. "It's very important--you have to interact with the people," says Maj. Gen. James Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, who is responsible for 17,000 square miles in and around Baghdad, a volatile area twice the size of New Jersey.
It is against this reality that any allegations of U.S. military misconduct--most notably the reported execution-style killing of 24 civilians at Haditha by several marines--set back efforts to win the confidence of ordinary Iraqis. "Quite frankly, it's had an effect," says Thurman.
As he travels around Iraq to talk with U.S. soldiers and marines, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-highest-ranking U.S. officer in Iraq, repeatedly emphasizes the need to better understand that most Iraqis are not their enemies and are, like them, under enormous stress. He emphasizes that troops should be careful when it comes to escalating the use of force, given that "almost 30 percent of the people we're here to help think that we're the greatest threat to their security."
Values. Now, as the U.S. military here implements a remedial program of ethics and values training in the aftermath of Haditha, there is also an effort to turn this into a teachable moment for the Iraqi Army.
At the Iraqi Center for Military Values, Principles, and Leadership in the town of Rustamiyah north of Baghdad, American trainers are preparing to launch a new academy to instruct Iraqi officers in leadership. A list of principles, posted for the benefit of the Iraqi officers who will be attending the institute starting next month, hangs on the wall. A good leader, it says, is willing to seek advice. Willing to raise concerns. Willing to report observed violations. "Our counterparts are struggling, and we are here to be their moral compass," says Tom Adams, an American trainer at the center who up until earlier this year was a command sergeant major with a combat Stryker brigade in Iraq. He returned, he said, because he believes in what America is trying to do here.
But teaching these lessons is more difficult today, says Kenneth Johnson, a former Marine officer and senior ethical adviser to the institute: In the wake of Haditha, he wonders, "are we going to look like hypocrites?"
The Iraqi translators on their staff bat this question around in one of the old rooms that used to house family members of Baathist favorites attending the Iraqi Military Academy, which is attached to the leadership institute. "When I came here, frankly, I was only looking for money," says Danny, one of the Iraqi translators who uses an American name for fear of being killed should his identity become known. "When I found out what they were trying to do here, I thought it was very good for the country. We need to build an Army with not only weapons but with values. To protect the people, the Army must know how to treat the people."