It's a stunning letter. And it's one of the most important letters to come from a senior military official in a very long time. The very fact that it is necessary reveals the extent of the damage that Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney have done. But the fact that it is addressed to every servicemember in the field from their commander in the field shows that honor is not dead in the US military, and that repair is possible. Marty Lederman is right to detect some political interference. I suspect that Cheney insisted on inserting the word "frequently," to insist that torture is not always useless and unnecessary. But Petraeus is finally doing what no one has yet done in this war: he is asserting the immorality, illegality and dishonor of torture and abuse from a position of authority. It has taken six years to hear that clarity again, after the shameful stain of this president's record. Here's the letter in full:
10 May 2007
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National ForceIraq:
Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that wenot our enemiesoccupy the moral high ground. This strategy has shown results in recent months. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate attacks, for example, have finally started to turn a substantial portion of the Iraqi population against it.
In view of this, I was concerned by the results of a recently released survey conducted last fall in Iraq that revealed an apparent unwillingness on the part of some US personnel to report illegal actions taken by fellow members of their units. The study also indicated that a small percentage of those surveyed may have mistreated noncombatants. This survey should spur reflection on our conduct in combat.
I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq.
I also know firsthand the bonds between members of the “brotherhood of the close fight.” Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge. As hard as it might be, however, we must not let these emotions lead usor our comrades in armsto commit hasty, illegal actions. In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.
Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone “talk”; however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.
We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings. Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human. If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.
We should use the survey results to renew our commitment to the values and standards that make us who we are and to spur re-examination of these issues. Leaders, in particular, need to discuss these issues with their troopersand, as always, they need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct. We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make.
Thanks for what you continue to do. It is an honor to serve with each of you.
David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army
(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty.)