News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
MONDAY, JUNE 5, 2006


Ethics training? Sure, but troops need good example

With U.S. Marines accused of killing two dozen unarmed civilians after the Marines were ambushed, the U.S. military plans to conduct ethics training for coalition troops in Iraq.

"As military professionals, it is important that we take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies," Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli said in a statement. He is the second-ranking American general in Iraq. "The challenge for us," he continued, "is to make sure the actions of a few do not tarnish the good work of the many."

Ethics training is an appropriate response to the killings reported at Haditha. Some Iraqis say Americans also need a better understanding of their host country's culture and more respect for Iraqi lives. It's a good idea to reiterate these basics, though surely the vast majority of coalition troops would not engage in the kind of conduct alleged here. The accused Marines deserve a thorough investigation, a fair trial if warranted, and then vindication or punishment. The United States cannot tolerate murder.

Another thing coalition troops need, though, is a better example from the top. In fighting the war on terror, the Bush administration has too often failed to support the values that Gen. Chiarelli mentioned.

Instead of respecting human rights and the rules of civilized warfare, our government has insisted on its rights to ignore the Geneva accords and deny due process to prisoners. American troops have been caught abusing prisoners, and there are no clear answers as to whether high-level civilian or military leaders are at least indirectly responsible, having tolerated such abuse or established policies that encourage it. The administration has defended its right to engage in torture while insisting that it doesn't torture.

Howard Prince, a retired Army general who heads the Center for Ethical Leadership at the University of Texas at Austin, agrees that "it's time to step back and do refresher training to remind those how the United States wages war." But he notes that the effect of such training "won't be as powerful if it's not sustained by continuous efforts on part of leadership at every level."

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