Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Moral courage: Three Army lt. cols. call out their service for dangerous hypocrisies

They’re speaking truth to power in the new issue of Military Review: The best of a good issue is an article titled "The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves." Written by three lieutenant colonels (one retired, two on active duty, all steeped in ethical studies), it detects a significant discrepancy between the Army’s stated values and ...

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They're speaking truth to power in the new issue of Military Review: The best of a good issue is an article titled "The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves." Written by three lieutenant colonels (one retired, two on active duty, all steeped in ethical studies), it detects a significant discrepancy between the Army's stated values and its actual behavior:

The biggest problem with the Army Values is how they are sloganeered. By simply saying them, we soldiers frequently delude ourselves into thinking they make us more ethical, like they are a talisman. Indeed, they can actually set the stage for unethical action by inspiring moral complacency and allowing us to justify nearly any action that appears legal.

The authors are especially concerned by the failure of the Army to hold accountable soldiers involved in the torture and murder of prisoners. For example, they note, "Of the 100 detainees who died in U.S. custody between 2002 and 2006, 45 are confirmed or suspected murder victims. Of these, eight are known to have been tortured to death. Only half of these eight cases resulted in punishment for U.S. service members, with five months in jail being the harshest punishment meted out. This is only a summary of the most extreme cases."

They’re speaking truth to power in the new issue of Military Review: The best of a good issue is an article titled "The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves." Written by three lieutenant colonels (one retired, two on active duty, all steeped in ethical studies), it detects a significant discrepancy between the Army’s stated values and its actual behavior:

The biggest problem with the Army Values is how they are sloganeered. By simply saying them, we soldiers frequently delude ourselves into thinking they make us more ethical, like they are a talisman. Indeed, they can actually set the stage for unethical action by inspiring moral complacency and allowing us to justify nearly any action that appears legal.

The authors are especially concerned by the failure of the Army to hold accountable soldiers involved in the torture and murder of prisoners. For example, they note, "Of the 100 detainees who died in U.S. custody between 2002 and 2006, 45 are confirmed or suspected murder victims. Of these, eight are known to have been tortured to death. Only half of these eight cases resulted in punishment for U.S. service members, with five months in jail being the harshest punishment meted out. This is only a summary of the most extreme cases."

Read it, OK?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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