Steven Miles has written a commentary on the new surveys of military personnel. In my commentary I have focussed on one aspect of these reports, the high rate of support for torture among US soldiers and marines. Miles deals with a broader range of findings in this important study, especially the data on the level of stress experienced by the troops and its impact upon them:
The Department of Defense Mental Health Advisory Team Reports
Steven Miles, MD. University of Minnesota.
Author of Oath Betrayed: Torture Medical Complicity and the War on Terror and The United States Military Medicine in War on Terror Prisons.
The Defense Department has recently released an extensive set of reports on Mental Health issues pertaining to Iraq. A complete index may be found at
http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=10824. The final report is at http://www.armymedicine.army.mil/news/mhat/mhat_iv/MHAT_IV_Report_17NOV06.pdf
These reports date over several years and include some repeated surveys. In general, they show that a quarter to a third of deployed soldiers in combat zones are currently experiencing moderate to severe combat stress. Others are experiencing depression and anxiety. About 45% of soldiers report low or very low unit morale. “Almost half” of all solders knew how to get mental health services; only a third of the soldiers wanting help received it. 97% of the soldiers seen by forward deployed behavioral units were returned to duty. The study found higher levels of mental health problems in women soldiers but surprisingly did not ask about exposure to sexual harassment or rape by male colleagues. It appears that “Don’t ask; don’t tell,” applies to the open secret of gender harassment in Iraq.
The suicide rate of 16.3/100,000 and slowly climbing. It is disturbing that the DOD did not look at the rate of suicide with the length of deployment or with regard to multiple deployments. However, it did find that Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome was 1.6 times higher for currently deployed soldiers on a repeated deployments than for those on their first deployment. Stress and depression also went up with the length of the deployment.
Training and knowledge of Combat Stress Control Doctrine was minimal. More than half of the behavioral health providers did not know Combat and Operational Stress Control Doctrine or did not support it.
The final report has a unique section on human rights abuses. About 10% of military personnel report mistreating civilians p. 34-42. About 40% said that torture should be allowed to gather information. Less than half would report a team member who needlessly damaged Iraqi property or abused or even killed a non-combatant.
Annex E of Report II was conducted in the summer of the Abu Ghraib scandal publicity. It found that prison military personnel had similar rates of behavioral health disorders to non prison personnel. Annex F, describing the mental health care available to prisoners, remains completely classified. The Ryder and Fay report found very poor mental health care for prisoners. Physicians for Human Rights and I have noted that the mental health personnel were allocated to the interrogation system to break the prisoners down.
Steven Miles, MD
Center for Bioethics
Dept of Medicine
University of Minnesota
612 624 9440
May 8th, 2007
A new survey of US military personnel in Iraq finds high rates of support for torture. Forty-one percent of soldiers in Iraq and 44% of marines agree that “Torture should be allowed if it will save the life of a Soldier/Marine” and 36% of soldiers and 39% of marines agree that “Torture should be allowed in order to gather important info about insurgents.” Responses to another question give a sense of who, in the opinion of many occupation soldiers and marines, should be subject to torture: 17% of both soldiers and marines agree that “All non-combatants should be treated as insurgents.”
These results illustrate the US military’s conflicting attitudes toward banned torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. On the one hand, the US military has a long history of teaching and promoting torture around the world, in the various American client states in Latin America and elsewhere. For example, the School of the Americas is well-known for teaching torture techniques and providing detailed manuals for Latin American militaries on how to conduct effective torture. And itshould not be forgotten that many of the most notorious US torture facilities around the world are run by the US military, including Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, and Bagram. at each of these facilities, and at so many others, torture, conducted by both military and others (CIA and private”interrogation” contractors) was routine and encouraged.
On the other hand, there is a history of military opposition to torture and resistance to the Bush administration’s more extreme pro-torture policies and interpretations of laws. For example, as the administration moved to include torture as a central element of its Global War On Terror, military lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) offices actively opposed these moves, largely on the basis that they were both ineffective at obtaining information and would alienate needed allies — Muslims around the world — in combating terror.
More recently the US military has adopted a new interrogation Army Field Manual with policies that ban many, but not all, abusive interrogation techniques. Many of the most abusive technique are banned, including:
Forcing the detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner.
Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; using duct tape over the eyes.
Applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain.
Using military working dogs.
Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
Conducting mock executions.
Depriving the detainee of necessary food, water, or medical care.
However, under the guise of separating detainees from others with whom they might share information, the AFM allows prolonged isolation. And the manual allows the exploitation of a detainees fears, which can easily extend to abuse.
Another factor affecting attitudes toward torture concerns the dynamics of occupation. US troops are involved in an occupation of a land whose culture and people are alien to them. When the population of that land resist occupation, becoming “insurgents,” these troops have little basis for understanding this rebellion, for to understand would be to realize that their role is that of occupier, making their presence difficult to rationalize. Countries seeking to dominate another country use some combination of the carrot and the stick. But terrorizing the population to be occupied is usually an essential component of the occupation strategy. Torture is a key element of this control through terror. The US troops in Iraq understand what the brass, with their shocked response to this survey, pretend not to comprehend: that torture goes along with occupation and domination. Perhaps it isn’t a logical necessity. But it is rare for an unpopular occupation to not be accompanied by torture, to show the population to be subjugated just who is boss.
Ending the US military’s support for torture in practice will most likely require an end to its role as a force to occupy the varied lands of other people. It will also require an understanding that other peoples are the equals of those bearing “the white man’s burden.” Human rights and empire do not go together.
May 8th, 2007