National Security

Panetta Calls For Military Ethics Review

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called for a review of military ethics among the nation's top military officers. The Pentagon chief wants to learn whether there is a breakdown that explains recent incidents: the affair by retired Gen. David Petraeus, the investigation into Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, the punishment this week of another general found to have used military resources for personal benefit, and several more.


That resignation of David Petraeus, a retired four-star general, has raised a fundamental question: Is something wrong with the top leadership of the military? For months now, one high-ranking officer after another has gotten into trouble on charges ranging from sexual misconduct to the misuse of government funds. So today, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for an ethics review of the senior officer corps. NPR's Tom Bowman has that story.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Defense Secretary Panetta was quick to tell reporters that most senior officers are serving honorably.

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Let's not forget, we have 1,000 general officers and admirals who lead our forces. And they do it with distinction, and they do it with courage, and they do it with good leadership.

BOWMAN: But the recent criminal charges and ethical lapses involving senior officers has caused him concern for months. Now he wants the Joint Chiefs to review the military ethics training programs to see if they're sufficient. And he wants the Chiefs' views on how to create a better culture of what he calls value-based decision making.

AL PIERCE: I think it's wise to step back and say, do we have a bigger problem here?

BOWMAN: That's Al Pierce. He teaches ethics to lieutenant colonels and colonels at the National Defense University in Washington.

PIERCE: What kind of a problem do we have? And what can we do to ameliorate that problem?

BOWMAN: Pierce says the Joint Chiefs should review military ethics training as a first step and see if it needs beefing up. Retired Marine General Carl Mundy agrees it's a good idea to review what is taught. But he says the current training seems to be sufficient. Lapses in judgment within the military, he says, appear to be almost a cyclical problem.

CARL MUNDY: Human beings are human beings, and good as they are or try as they might, some err and perhaps some ignore.

BOWMAN: Mundy says part of the problem may stem from becoming too enamored with yourself once you begin putting an admiral's or general's stars on your shoulder.

MUNDY: It's easy to become impressed with yourself when everybody around you salutes you, you have an airplane at your disposal or - I mean, it's easy to - as I say, I'll use the term, drink your own bathwater.

BOWMAN: Now it's up to the Joint Chiefs to start to fix the problem. Secretary Panetta wants their solutions by December 1. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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