Monday, April 09, 2007

The Sailor Saga Continues...

This is such a bad movie already.

Widespread criticism of MoD's decision

Mike Aston, whose son, Cpl Russell Aston, was one of six military policemen killed by a mob in Majar al-Kabir, Iraq, in 2003, said he was "absolutely amazed".

He said: "I think to actually sell (my) story it would besmirch my son's memory. I really think this whole thing has been shameful and this just compounds it by going for the money."

Tim Collins, the former officer who led the 1st Bn Royal Irish Regiment in the 2003 Iraq invasion, said: "It reflects the extraordinary incoherence at the MoD and leads to the question of who's in charge. Their humiliation seemed to be complete but now the MoD seems to have discovered another layer."

Admiral Sir Alan West, the former head of the Navy, said the decision would not have been made on his watch. "It does leave a slightly tacky taste in one's mouth. It is not good," he told BBC News 24.

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said the MoD had failed to realise that "we are going to lose steadily respect for our Armed Forces" if personnel could quickly sell their tales. He added: "There are people who have lost their loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they're not writing their stories."

Roger Gale, the Tory MP for Thanet North, said he hoped newspapers and the individuals selling their stories "will think long and hard, and donate the money to a service charity" to cover bereaved families' legal costs at inquests.

At least: Senior officers refuse a media deal

While Leading Seaman Faye Turney defends her decision to accept a £100,000 fee for interviews, a couple of her colleagues have shunned offers of money for their accounts of the 13-day ordeal.

The two most senior members of the 15 hostages held in Iran have refused to receive payment for their stories, with one going as far as describing the deals as "a bit unsavoury".

Which prompted (A little late): Defense Ministry bans sailors from selling stories

Britain's Ministry of Defense on Monday banned any more of the 15 sailors and marines held in Iran from selling their stories to the media, reversing a previous decision after widespread criticism.

Defense Secretary Des Browne announced a "review of the regulations" concerning payment for stories after defense experts, former military commanders and members of the public expressed outrage that some had profited from their captivity.

Toby Harnden: British humiliation becomes disgrace

Servicemen and women should be held to a higher standard than civilians, though listening to the six of the 15 who spoke on their return it was hard to believe these were military personnel. Read the transcript here.

So what should be done about this debacle? First, Tony Blair should step in now and direct that monies any of the 15 receive from newspapers as a result of their "ordeal" should be donated to the Royal Navy Benevolent Trust.

Second, a naval Board of Inquiry - leading to possible courts martial for the captain of HMS Cornwall and other senior officers - should be held into the circumstances surrounding the seizing of the two RIBs by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.


Here are some questions the board should address. Why was HMS Cornwall not able to protect its sailors and marines? Why did the Lynx helicopter leave station before the boarding was complete? Why did the Rules of Engagement not permit the 15 to open fire until it was too late?Why were the 15 apparently unprepared for what was mild mistreatment and some fairly basic mind games? Lieutenant Felix Carman RN, the senior officer among them, stated: "The questions were aggressive and handling rough but it was no worse than that." Watch him chatting to Iranian TV here, offering to "promote" the country and hoping he will return.

Why is Britain training officers who seem to think that their number one priority is to do nothing that could risk the lives of personnel? Why did they not have the most basic appreciation of how their briefings and apologies in front of nautical charts would be used for propaganda purposes?Why did many of the 15 - with Lt Carman front and centre - believe it was appropriate to greet the news of their release with giddy excitement, grins, waves, back-slapping and grovelling gratitude to President Ahmadinejad?

Harnden notes a split between the Brits:

We can already see a split developing among the 15. "The Sunday Times" quotesActing Sergeant Dean Harris as saying: ""I want £70,000. That is based on what the others have told me they have been offered. I know Faye has been offered a heck more than that. I am worth it because I was one of only two who didn't crack."

Take a look again at that now notorious photo of 13 of the 15 in Tehran just after the love-in with Ahmadinejad.

I've been poring over the faces. From left to right, you can see Operator/Maintainer Simon Massey, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, LS Simon Coe, Lt Carman, Marine Adam Sperry, OM Arthur Batchelor, Mne Joe Tindell (face half obscured), OM Andrew Henderson, Mne Mark Banks, Captain Chris Air and Mne Danny Masterton.

As I've noted previously, Banks, CaptAir and Masterton look distinctly uncomfortable with what's going on. Sperry and Tindell are at the back and don't seem to be waving. Which leaves us with six naval personnle behaving like goofballs.

Chief Petty Officer Gavin Cavendish (the most senior of the 15 apart from the two officers) , OM Nathan Summers, Acting Sgt Harris and Mne Paul Barton are either absent or not in the picture. Summers had already apologised profusely for "trespassing" and he can be seen in other footage smiling at his goody bag - so we can add him to the six other RN goofballs.

So it seems there was a division between the RN and RM personnel - perhaps not surprising given the difference in training. Exposing the rivalries and different responses from within the group will be terrible for service and ship morale.

Mary Steyn also weighs in: Iran's bluff humbles Britain

Even if there is more going on than meets the eye, what meets the eye is so profoundly damaging to the credibility of great nations that no amount of lethal special ops could compensate for it. Power is only as great as the perception of power. The Iranians understand that they can't beat America or Britain in tank battles or air strikes so they choose other battlefields on which to hit them. That's why the behavior of the captives gives great cause for concern: There's no point training guys to be tough fighting men of the Royal Marines when you're in a bloody little scrap in Sierra Leone (as they were a couple of years ago) if you allow them to crumple on TV in front of the entire world.

Speaking of tough, the British sailors might take a page from Guantanamo Bay detainees:

Some techniques have been used to get information out of terrorists. Among them have been using variations in temperature (the room will be very hot or very cold), or playing a lot of music that they do not care for (the Barney theme has been very useful in this respect). It seems that human rights groups get the notion that listening to Britney Spears and Metallica is torture, but doesn't seem to object to terrorists beheading people.

But DailyKos disagrees: Support the troops ... unless they get captured

The British sailors and marines are safe at home now. But they would be tried for cowardice if some neo-cons got their way (see this National Review editorial here). The article linked to is written by a British ex-pat turned naturalized American who is more ideologically eclectic than most conservative columnists. But the core values are there: hypocrisy and intolerance.

The writer then goes on to justify capitulation:

These British troops were supposed to have fought to the death rather than allow their little rubber dingies to be captured by the forces of a country with which they are not currently at war. And if they were going to surrender the least they could do is force the Iranians to torture them before speaking on TV. With support like that who needs opposition!? It lays bare the reality behind the "support the troops" rhetoric. Liberals and other opponents of the war aren't being ordered to actually support the troops themselves but rather the policy that sent them over there. The troops are there to fight and die - pointlessly if need be - and our part is support the flawed policies and deranged leaders that sent them there.

It fits with the fetishism around Sparta that is growing among American Hawks. "Come Back With Your Shield Or On It." What's next, American Bushido? Suicide charges at dawn? Are we start emulating the Japanese war time regime now?

What's clear is that these conservatives (and they are ALL conservatives) bitching about the behavior of British sailors is that they don't have kids in the military. All 15 got out alive. I am especially proud of the one woman among the group who was apparently treated much more harshly than the rest, but bore it with dignity. None of the 15 cried on camera. Nobody begged.

Did you catch that 300 reference? Someone's a bit sore over the box-office smash hit, eh?

...Iran is still laughing at the Brits.

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