Academic journal article Military Review

Discipline, Punishment, and Counterinsurgency

Academic journal article Military Review

Discipline, Punishment, and Counterinsurgency

Article excerpt


JUST AS COMMANDERS are responsible for the climate in their units, so the Army as an institution is responsible for the moral climate it fosters. In this article, I will outline some of the contradictions and ambiguities in Army regulations (ARs) and field manuals (FMs) that make it difficult for leaders to understand the distinction between corrective training and punishment. I will argue that ARs, case law, the Office of the Inspector General, and higher-echelon commanders have, nonetheless, made it clear that such a distinction exists and must be respected. Failure to recognize and respect this distinction can and often does lead to illegal abuses of authority. These abuses of authority within the Army's ranks, and the cultural undercurrents that condone these patterns of behavior, cripple efforts to wage an effective counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign by fostering a mentality of paternalistic tyranny rather than good stewardship. The moral implications of this mentality are neither consistent nor compatible with counterinsurgency doctrine, which requires support of, and thus respect for, the local population. (1)

In July of 2005, while serving in Iraq, I began a search for the regulations that authorized a noncommissioned officer (NCO) to order a private to do painful, humiliating, or fatigue-inducing exercises as a means of addressing alleged misconduct or minor deficiencies. Such practices are commonly referred to as "smoking" a Soldier. (2) An instance of a Soldier being ordered to do pain-inducing exercises as a response to alleged misconduct or minor deficiencies is called a "smoke session." The practice is ubiquitous in the Army. It is also illegal.

To correct this situation, two things need to occur. First, several ARs and FMs need to be revised to clarify the difference between corrective training and punishment. Additionally, company and field grade officers and senior NCOs must enforce these regulations, and their interpretation, in accordance with judicial findings and the memoranda of higher-echelon officers.

Paternalism Gone Awry

Sergeants smoke Soldiers in the Army every day. Unfortunately, it is not easy to discern the legal boundary between corrective training and punishment by reading regulations. In my experience, NCOs and lower enlisted Soldiers are almost never aware of the location and content of the wording that addresses practices colloquially referred to as "smoke sessions." Indeed, the term "smoke session," while a part of the everyday lexicon of enlisted Soldiers, is nowhere to be found in ARs or FMs.

Legal guide. The terms, "corrective training," "extra training," "extra instruction," and "punishment" are discussed, but there is considerable ambiguity in their definitions. The clearest distinction between extra training and punishment is in FM 27-1, Legal Guide for Commanders: "Do not use extra training and instruction as punitive measures. You must distinguish extra training and instruction from punishment or even the appearance of punishment." (3) This passage exhorts a distancing of the definitions and practices of punishment vis-a-vis extra training.

Such a distinction is important because punishment is illegal when it is administered prior to an Article 15 or a court martial. (4) There is no provision anywhere in the Army that allows NCOs to preside over a court martial, and FM 27-1 explicitly states that NCOs are not authorized to impose nonjudicial punishment on Soldiers "under any circumstances." (5) An NCO's summary decision to punish a Soldier is unauthorized. Smoke sessions, when punitive, are therefore unauthorized.

NCO guide. Unfortunately, FM 7-22-7, The Army Noncommissioned Officer Guide, does not specifically state that NCOs must not punish Soldiers. This publication gives some guidelines, shared with AR 600-20, Command Policy, for acceptable extra training, or "on-the-spot" corrections: "The training, instruction, or correction given to a Soldier to correct deficiencies must be directly related to the deficiency . …

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