Panetta Warns Military Over Cases of Misconduct
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta put the military on notice Friday that he is concerned that the spate of high-profile episodes of misconduct by some troops in Afghanistan not only discredits the entire armed forces, but also damages America’s chances for battlefield success.
Mr. Panetta said episodes involving a few soldiers who “lack judgment, lack professionalism, lack leadership” could have far-reaching consequences.
“The reality is that our enemies are losing on the battlefield, and they will seek any opportunity to damage us,” Mr. Panetta said. “In particular, they have sought to take advantage of a series of troubling incidents that involve misconduct.”
The military has been stained by disclosures that young American soldiers defiled insurgents’ remains in Afghanistan, that Marines urinated on Taliban bodies and that other troops burned Korans in violation of Islamic practice. When added to the massacre of villagers attributed to an Army sergeant, these episodes have cast American soldiers in a harsh light before the Afghan public.
Addressing troops at Fort Benning, Ga., Mr. Panetta said these well-publicized episodes “can impact the mission that we’re engaged in, they can put your fellow service members at risk, they can hurt morale, and they can damage our standing in the world. And they can cost lives.”
Those concerns expressed by the Pentagon’s top civilian official were reiterated by the military’s top officer, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said in an interview Friday that these examples of misconduct “diminish the extraordinary work the rest of the force is doing.”
He said the military has an ethos that “holds us to a higher standard,” and he disclosed that, as chairman, he is studying how a decade of nonstop conflict has influenced the military as a profession.