Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Helping the enemy

Writing in AlterNet of the Final report of the US Military’s Mental Health Advisory Team released this month by the US Army Surgeon-General, but dated 17 November 2006, Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, points out that the MHAT survey of battlefield ethics found:

  • "Only 47 percent of soldiers and only 38 percent of Marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect."
  • "Well over a third of soldiers and Marines reported torture should be allowed, whether to save the life of a fellow soldier or Marine … or to obtain important information about insurgents…."
  • 28 percent of soldiers and 30 percent of Marines reported they had cursed and/or insulted Iraqi noncombatants in their presence.
  • 9 percent and 12 percent, respectively, reported damaging or destroying Iraqi property "when it was not necessary."
  • 4 percent and 7 percent, respectively, reported hitting or kicking a noncombatant "when it was not necessary.

It’s interesting that Wheeler encloses ‘when it was not necessary’ in quotes. Apparently the survey didn’t attempt to determine under what kind of conditions ‘damaging or destroying Iraqi property’ or ‘hitting or kicking a non-combatant’ would actually be necessary. Wheeler does not mention that the report also finds that 17% of both soldiers and Marines agree that ‘All non-combatants should be treated as insurgents’. He goes on to explain how he interprets the estimates.

It is notable that these are the responses the survey team received; there are probably more soldiers and Marines who may have been reluctant to respond completely and accurately to an Army questionnaire on such sensitive topics. Therefore, the data recorded should be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling.

What strikes me as bizarre is the conclusions Wheeler draws from the report.

Regardless of just how frequent the abuse may be beyond the survey results, these are descriptions of behaviors that can only alienate the Iraqi population against the U.S. military presence there, and against any among that population, including its politicians, who welcome or even tolerate our presence. It is not just that we are not winning; we are helping the enemy. When the historians explain why America lost the war in Iraq, this study should be prominent evidence.

The concern is not with the actual impact on Iraqi civilians of the way occupation forces treat them and those they are close to. Nor even with the impact on the mental health of those abusing the occupied population, but with the impact on perception of the occupation forces, as if the occupied could ever love them, and on the outcome of the war for the US. The problem is that ‘we are helping the enemy’ and that, after all, is the worst thing.

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