SPECIALIST Jeff Englehart, a 26-year-old American soldier from Grand Junction in Colorado, could not be more blunt. "I guess," he said, "while I was there, the general attitude was: a dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi."

His brutally honest assessment of how GIs view Iraqi civilians is a standard attitude in the US army held by many of Englehart's comrades.

Englehart was just one of 50 US veterans of the Iraq conflict interviewed by The Nation magazine, an American political weekly. It is a unique study which focuses on military attitudes towards the most vulnerable group of people caught up in the campaign: ordinary men, women and children.

Englehart explained matter-of-factly why American soldiers really don't care if civilians live or die: "The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people, and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal.

"Like, here we are trying to help you; here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we're trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us.'"

It was only when soldiers got home, away from combat, that "the guilt really takes place, takes root," he said.

A recent report by the US Office of the Surgeon General of the US Army Medical Command found that only 47% of soldiers and 38% of marines felt that civilians should be treated with dignity and respect.

And it found 55% of soldiers and 40% of marines would report a comrade who killed or injured an "innocent non-combatant".

Here, some of Englehart's comrades, who were also interviewed, tell their stories.

Specialist Michael Harmon, 24, Brooklyn, New York: I'll tell you the point where I really turned. I go out to the scene and there was this little, you know, pudgy little two-year-old child with the cute little pudgy legs, and I look and she has a bullet through her leg. An IED improvised explosive device went off, the gun-happy soldiers just started shooting anywhere and the baby got hit.

"And this baby looked at me, wasn't crying, wasn't anything. She just looked at me like - I know she couldn't speak, it might sound crazy - but she was like asking me: Why?' You know, why do I have a bullet in my leg?' I was just like, this is it. This is ridiculous.'' Sergeant jesus bocanegra, 25, welasco, texas: "It was just soldiers being soldiers. You give them a lot of - too much - power that they never had before, and before you know it they're the ones kicking these guys while they're handcuffed.

"And then, by not catching insurgents, when you do have someone say oh, this is a guy planting a roadside bomb' - and you don't even know if it's him or not - you just go in there and kick the shit out of him and take him to jail."

Specialist Philip Crystal, 23, Reno, Nevada: We were approaching this one house and they had a family dog, and it was barking ferociously 'cause it's doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. He shot it and the bullet went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog - I'm a huge animal-lover, I love animals - and this dog has these eyes on it and it's running around spraying blood all over the place. The family is sitting right there, with three little children and a mom and a dad, horrified. And I'm at a loss for words.

"And so I yell at him. I'm like, what the f*** are you doing?' And so the dog is yelping. It's crying without a jaw. And I'm looking at the family and they're just, you know, dead scared. And so I told them, I was like, f***ing shoot it'. At least kill it because that can't be fixed.

"And - I actually get tears from just saying this right now, and I had tears then too - I'm looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them 20 bucks because that's what I had. And I told them I'm so sorry that asshole did that.'' sergeant larry cannon, 27, salt lake city, utah: "I remember in Mosul, we had guys in a raid and they threw them in the back of a Bradley armoured fighting vehicle. These guys were really throwing up. They were so sick and nervous. Sometimes they were peeing on themselves.

"Can you imagine if people could just come into your house and take you in front of your family screaming? And if you actually were innocent but had no way to prove that? It would be a scary, scary thing."

Specialist aidan delgado, 25, sarasota, florida: "The picture was very graphic. A head split open. One of the pictures was of two soldiers in the back of the truck. They opened the body bags of these prisoners that were shot in the head and one soldier has got an MRE meals-ready-to-eat spoon. He's reaching in to scoop out some of his brain, looking at the camera and he's smiling.

"And I said these are some of our soldiers desecrating somebody's body. Something is seriously amiss'."

specialist josh middleton, 23, new york city: "It's like life and death. Forty-year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we have this power that they can't have. That's really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level."

medic patrick resta, 29, philadelphia, pennsylvania: "I had the night shift one night at the aid station. We were told from the first second that we arrived there, and this was in writing on the wall, that we were not to treat Iraqi civilians unless they were about to die.

"So it's really late at night and I walk out to the gate and I don't even see the guy at first. He's sitting, leaned up against this concrete barrier. This guy, he has the shit kicked out of him. He was missing two teeth. He has a huge laceration on his head, he looked like he had broken his eye orbit and had some kind of injury to his knee.

"I open a bag and I'm trying to get bandages out, and the guys in the guard tower are yelling at me: Get that f***ing haji derogatory term for an Iraqi out of here.' I'm kind of ignoring them and our doctor rolls up in an ambulance and from 30 or 40 meters away looks out, shakes his head and says: He looks fine.' "Both this doctor and the guards are yelling at me when I'm saying no, let's at least keep this guy here overnight until it's lights out' because they wanted me to send him back to the city where he told me people were waiting to kill him.

"When I asked if he'd be allowed to stay the response was: Are you hearing this shit? I think doc is part f***ing haji.' "So I walk inside the gate and the guy turns around to walk away and the guys in the guard tower say: Tell him that if he comes back tonight he's going to get f***ing shot.' The interpreter yells it to the Iraqi and the guy just flinches and starts walking away, you know, crying like a little kid. And that was that."

specialist ben schrader, 27, grand junction, colorado: "We'd be cruising down the road in a convoy and all of the sudden an IED blows up. And, you know, you've got these scared kids on these guns, and they just start opening fire. And there could be innocent people everywhere.

"And I've seen this on numerous occasions where innocent people died because we were cruising down and a bomb goes off."

sergeant dustin flatt, 33, denver, colorado: "A car following got too close to a convoy. Basically, they took shots at the car. Warning shots, I don't know. Well, one of the bullets happened to just pierce the windshield and went straight into the face of this woman in the car.

"And she was - well, as far as I know - instantly killed. I didn't pull her out of the car or anything. Her son was driving the car, and she had three little girls in the back seat. She was obviously dead. And the girls were crying."

specialist jeff englehart, 26, grand junction, colorado: "You can honestly see how the Iraqis in general, or even Arabs in general are being, you know, kind of dehumanised. Like it was very common for US soldiers to call them derogatory terms, like camel jockeys or Jihad Johnny or, you know, sand nigger."

sergeant ben flanders, 28, concord, new hampshire: "It just seemed insane to run American civilian contractors around the country. It was just shocking to me. These guys are promised $120,000, tax-free, and what kind of people take those jobs? Down-on-their-luck-type people, you know?

"Grandmothers. There were grandmothers there ... just so we can have comfort and air-conditioning and sodas and PlayStations and camping chairs and greeting cards and stupid T-shirts that say Who's Your Baghdaddy?'."

sergeant patrick campbell, 29, camarillo, california: "You don't want to shoot kids. I mean, no-one does. I remember my unit was coming along this elevated overpass. And this kid is in the trash pile below, pulls out an AK-47 and just decides he's going to start shooting.

"And you gotta understand, you have spent nine months in a war zone, where every time you've been shot at you've never seen the person shooting at you, and you could never shoot back, and here's some guy, some 14-year-old with an AK-47, shooting at this convoy.

"It was the most obscene thing you've ever seen. Every person got out and opened fire on this kid. Using the biggest weapons we could find, we ripped him to shreds.

"Everyone was so happy, like with this release that they finally killed an insurgent. Then they realised it was just a little kid. And I know that really f***ed up a lot of people in the head.

Describing the aftermath of the wounding of an innocent man "The snipers had planted - after they had searched and found nothing - they had planted bomb-making materials on the guy because they didn't want to be investigated for the shoot.

"I remember taking that guy to Abu Ghraib prison and just saying I'm sorry' because there was not a damn thing I could do about it. I guess I have a moral obligation to say something, but I would have been kicked out of the unit in a heartbeat. I would have been a traitor."

sergeant kelly dougherty, 29, CaNOn City, colorado Describing her unit commander shooting an Iraqi civilian in the back "The mentality of my squad leader was like, oh, we have to kill them over here so I don't have to kill them back in Colorado. He just seemed to view every Iraqi as a potential terrorist."