updated 5/17/2007 10:29:24 PM ET 2007-05-18T02:29:24

The Marine Corps commandant is admonishing his officers to stress a need for ethics on the battlefield after a survey found Marines a bit more likely than soldiers to condone torture to gain information or save a comrade's life.

Gen. James T. Conway told Pentagon reporters Thursday that he wants to examine whether Marines are more prone to not follow military rules of engagement. He is telling his officers to make sure their Marines understand the importance of ethics in the fight.

"I was a little bit disturbed by what I saw because, one, Marines were more likely to do those things than were soldiers," he said. "I want to get after that because, again, those things are things that either incite the population or, conversely, help to win the fight if you do them right."

Ethics on the battlefield has been a persistent and troublesome issue for the military during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. High profile incidents include the killings of 24 civilians at Haditha by Marines, the rape and killing of a young Iraqi woman and the slaying of her family by Army soldiers, and the abuse and sexual humiliation of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison.

At the same time, Conway said an Army commander in Afghanistan was wrong when he issued a public apology for an incident in March where Marines "killed and wounded innocent Afghan people."

Conway said Army Col. John Nicholson "was premature to apologize, in that there is an investigation ongoing to determine what happened. If the investigation should determine that there are charges that should be levied, then there will be a hearing, perhaps a court martial." Conway added that the military was not wrong to make $2,000 payments to the families of those killed.

'More of the thumping and the slamming'
Nicholson this month read to reporters an apology given to the families for an incident in Nangahar province that left as many as 19 Afghans dead and 50 injured. An explosives-rigged minivan crashed into a convoy of Marines. A U.S. military commander later determined that Marines used excessive force when they fired back at civilian cars and pedestrians as they sped away.

On Thursday, Conway sent a memo to all of his officers directing them to re-emphasize the importance of values. He said he will hold a "values conference" on Monday with senior Marine Corps leaders to determine how best to reinforce the message to Marines at the battlefront.

Over time, he said, some fight training, may have "morphed to more of the physical, more of the thumping and the slamming" with less emphasis on when to use those skills and how to control them.

Marines may go to Baghdad
"We need to make sure every Marine understands the importance of ethics as an American trooper, and the importance of maintaining these core values as we go about a counterinsurgency fight," he said, adding that he has directed some changes and improvements in training to better emphasize ethics.

The survey released this month found that fewer than half of the Marines questioned said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian. Thirty-nine percent said torture should be allowed to gather information from an insurgent.

In other comments, Conway said the military has to do a better job telling the people in the U.S. about the costs of leaving Iraq too soon. He said there is a troubling "disconnect" between the amount of time the military thinks it will take to stabilize the country and the amount of patience the public has with the war.

Speaking as Congress continues to press for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, Conway declined to say how many troops will have to stay in Iraq or for how long.

But, he said, "I do believe that there's a certain amount of time that it takes to overcome an insurgency-type of environment. Historically, it's been somewhere between nine and 10 years, with various levels of effort."

2,000 tapped
He said there are still about 2,000 Marines preparing to head into Iraq. While he said he prefers that the Marines all serve together in the Anbar province, there is the possibility they could be used in Baghdad, where the levels of violence have continued to spike.

Conway also said the Marines are pushing the purchasing regulations right to the edge in an effort to get as many of the new Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the front lines. The Army and Marines are working to replace many of their Humvees with the MRAPs, which have a v-shaped hull that can better deflect explosions.

Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren, in a memo this week to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said the Army would anticipate spending up to $20 billion through 2009 to purchase as many as 17,700 of the armored vehicles. He said the Army has sent 1,300 to the troops in Iraq, and expects to send an additional 600 by the end of the year.

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