We are now living in an era of materialism and sensual gratification from which most of us cannot escape. This has affected to a great extent the defining of one’s moral conduct. Henceforth, in the military’s environment, we cannot take for granted and assume that military ethics are given for the people who solemnly take their oath of office as military personnel. In order to serve our tenure as professionals, we have the responsibility of inculcating into our soldiers the importance of military ethics and by identifying it as a core value of our military profession.
A professional is a person whose member of a vocation; an occupation for which an individual is specially drawn and for which they are suited, trained and qualified (Manuel,1981). Professionalism thus involves the process of giving a service to a client and is therefore governed by a standard of professional ethics meant to ensure that the interests of both parties are well catered for.
The military professional is under the ethical and moral standards that are inherent to the occupation, and his duty extends to both the civilian society from which the military is drawn and the civilian society in which he may be discharging his duties. Ethical standards are established through the moral values of the society, and as the society evolves towards higher degrees of liberalism, moral expectations also change and these ethical standards expected of the military professional need to be adjusted accordingly.
The boundary between what can be considered ethically correct and what cannot is becoming more and more blurred as the value system which governs individuals’ lives in society changes with time. What was considered to be ethical yesterday may not have the same status today or tomorrow since the world is fast moving towards levels of liberalization not thought possible a few decades ago, and the need to adapt to these changes therefore arises. It thus becomes important that in military establishments all over the world, great care needs to be taken to ensure that the military ethics that military personnel reflect the current-day societal situation. Military personnel should not be forced to live by ethical standards which are given and rigid. There needs to be a degree of flexibility in the definition of what is ethically correct and what is not, otherwise conflicts are bound to arise.
It is equally important that respect for these ethical standards to be emphasized and ensure that the delivery of service by the military is above expectations. The degree of maneuverability of the ethic standards should not give military personnel a greater leeway to a degree which may be considered too immoral by the civilian society.
Torture has been and is still is an ethical question which seems to be plaguing military establishments throughout the globe. In attempts to draw out useful information from prisoners of war, the military is more often than not accused of going beyond the line of interrogation and torturing prisoners of war in the pretext of carrying out interrogation. The argument usually degenerates into a war of words between the military and human rights groups; with each party in the contest presenting what it believes to be justifiable grounds for its stand. To a third party, this becomes a clear illustration of the indistinct area between what is considered ethical or unethical since it is very difficult, maybe impossible to establish who is right or wrong. This also brings out the different situational environments that exist in the military, especially in war zones and those that exist in the ordinary peacetime civilian society. These two environments are totally different and attempting to evaluate them on the same ethical value system may not be fair.
The act of interrogation is generally accepted to be ethical provided that it follows the set legal procedures. This is the reason why in many developed nations, police interrogations are generally viewed as ethical because there are clear policy guidelines that govern the procedure. In the military, however, general approval from society regarding its interrogation techniques is lost though military interrogators repeatedly defend themselves from accusations of torture by stating that they followed the set military procedures for such interrogations. In the fourth Geneva Convention, to which many nations are signatories, it is stated that “no physical or mental torture or any form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from the in information, of any kind whatever.” This rule, however, falls short of making a clear statement of when an act of interrogation changes to torture.
The legal boundaries set by this rule are blurred and therefore the rule can be bent to great extremes to justify any interrogators actions which may be considered torture. A good example would be the use of tricks and lies to influence the extraction of information from prisoners of war. Though the use of tricks and lies may be within the confines of law, they may be laced with threats of physical or mental harm or may even be lies with subtle and indirect threats made to coerce individuals to give information. Threats to prisoners of war that their civilian and innocent family members will suffer a dverse consequence if they do not divulge particular pieces of information may not have any basis in truth, and the interrogator may not have the least intention of making real the threat. All this will be an attempt to obtain useful information. This act will have civilian rights groups raising their arms in protest citing human rights infringement, the military will reply that it has acted within the law and this will present a dilemma on whether the act is ethical or not. This may also leave many questioning other ethical values in the military such as its honesty, sincerity ang integrity. A case on point will be the treatment of prisoners of war in Iraq. Human rights groups claim that the American military uses torture to obtain information from captured insurgents. The military defends itself by making reference to the policy guidelines that it has developed regarding interrogation, thereby implying that whatever methods it uses in its interrogations are legally sanctioned. The American legislature passed the Military Commission Act of 2006 for the purpose of regulating interrogations. Many nations have also passed these kinds of laws to ensure that interrogations that may border torture are within safe legal confines.
The different social settings in which militaries operate also present problems in defining torture and interrogation. Military establishments may operate in social settings that are different from those that they are drawn from and the value system existing in such societies may be different depending on culture and religion among other factors. In pursuit of its set standards of a value system, military units may find themselves unknowingly violating a foreign society’s ethics. An example of this difference would be a comparison of the Chinese and the American military. The two operate in different cultural settings and the extent to which methods of interrogation are considered torture may be different. Human rights apply to all people but the very concept of human rights may be blurred in some societies. The military thus needs to adapt its ethical standards to reflect an attempt to fit in the societies they operate in. Situational settings in which a military carries out interrogations which may be viewed as torture need to be examined before any ethical standards are applied to the military.
War zones and real battlefields are different situations and cannot be comparable to a peacetime civilian society. Some extreme methods may be justifiable to a certain extent under the adverse situations which may be facing a military. It is the primary duty of the military to save lives and property of both the civilians and the military personnel themselves. This important function may be compromised if some of what is considered ethical is followed. The American military operating in Iraq is usually faced with this difficult situation of choosing what may be considered extreme measures of interrogation to extract information torn prisoners of war and the risk of losing civilian and military life. The fact that they dealing with extremists who are ready to la y down their lives for any flimsy ideology further compounds the problem and this illustrates the question of whether the military should follow set ethical standards.
It is becoming a debatable issue whether the military should outsource its interrogation services from nonmilitary civilian entities. (Jennifer, 2009). Due to the disrepute that arises to the military whenever accusations of torture are brought against it, the military finds an easy way of avoiding this by letting civilian organizations carry out interrogations for it. This is a convenient way of shifting any blame that may be directed to the military. Ethical questions however arise from this method. Is it ethically correct for the military to transfer what is considered its duty to parties that may not be part of the conflict? Private security firms have been on the service of the American military in Afghanistan for a better part of the conflict and the American citizenry has very differing opinion on the matter and this further reflect the changing ethical expectations from the military.
The military has a very well established hierarchical structure. The set chain of command is strictly followed and orders that have their source from the higher levels of the chain have to be followed by the members of the junior ranks that receive them. This may also arise in cases involving torture where the methods to be used in interrogation are prescribed from higher in the military chain of command. This poses an ethical question as to whether military personnel should abide by their professional code of conduct which emphasizes on obedience of orders or whether they should follow the general ethical standards which are set by the society. (Mark, 1999)
Training forms an important part of professionalism and in the military; it is through training that the core values of the military establishment are taught to the potential members of the military. This training is also done to potential military interrogators who learn about the methods and procedures that are used to obtain information from prisoners of war. Application of these methods learnt from military schools later results in claims of torture and the military personnel are at loss on whether to trust the professional ethics which demand that one follows what is learnt in training or to follow the civilian way of thinking which may view certain acts as torture. (Jessica, 2007)
From the above scenarios it can be argued that there needs to be greater flexibility in defining what is professionally ethical in the military. Situational considerations of the operational zones of the military need to be critically examined before any verdict are given on the ethical standards of the military. The order of doing things in the military also needs not be rigid and should be constantly reviewed to ensure that the professional ethical standards that are expected of the military personnel conform to the existing ethical values of the society. Better understanding of military operations by the civilian society is also needed to avoid biased and uninformed judgments on the professional ethics of the military.
Christopher, C. (2008). Ethics and war in the 21st century. New York: Rutledge
Jenifer, K. (2009). Private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: legal issues. Congressional research service
Jessica,W. (2007). Torture and the military profession. University of Virginia: Macmillan, Palgrave.
Manuel, M. (1980).Journal of professional military ethics, Association of the United States army
Mark, O. (1999). Obeying Orders. New Brunswick: Transaction publishers