John Reid - heading 'em off at the pass...
As predicted, Defence Secretary John Reid's rather odd comments about how our brave boys should be cut some slack and
allowed to commit war crimes come in for less scrutiny in the face of a non-regular enemy were indeed attempting to form the course of debate prior to new allegations of abuse in Iraq.
"Soldiers are shown chasing youths involved in the disturbance, dragging four of them into the compound and beating them on various parts of the body with batons and kicking them, one in the genitals."Let's face it, it's no Abu Ghraib, but it hardly comes at a good time, what with all the easily-manipulated muslims around the world already braying like maniacs over those cartoons. As the video was apparently taken two years ago, it's rather tricky to see quite how, in the current over-heated situation, the Screws can justify publishing the story. It's hardly going to calm things down, is it?
Does this mean that Reid was right when he said "let us be very slow to condemn our troops, our forces, and very quick to support them and understand them"? Well, to say "no" outright is an obvious nonsense.
To "understand" a wartime situation is tricky, but we've all seen enough war films to know that things can easily get out of hand, that a few people may get a kicking. In war there are different standards of morality - and a beating is, after all, preferable to a bullet.
Does that make whacking people with sticks and kicking them in the bollocks with steel toe-capped combat boots right? No. So those responsible should indeed be condemned.
But should our troops also be supported? Yes. Of course. They're in a crap situation, and the vast majority are undoubtedly trying their best to achieve the objective of a peaceful and stable Iraq.
The News of the World has just put our troops in danger. In a time of even more heightened tensions than we had already - which is no mean feat considering how fucked up the world's been for the last three years - they've just taken another hefty swipe at the hornets' nest.
And for what? A grainy video of the sort of beating which, though nasty, you could see in most provincial British town centres at 2am any Saturday morning. Not exactly systematic abuse in secret detention facilities, is it? Hardly the scoop of the year. Yet it could well get a bunch more British soldiers killed.
John Reid evidently had the tip-off, hence the nonsense he spouted earlier in the week. His attempt to excuse war crimes should be ignored and ridiculed for the uncivilised nonsense it is. This should not be the time to excuse illegal actions.
Neither, however, is it the time to reveal relatively minor infractions. Should one single British soldier be killed or injured as a result of revenge attacks prompted by this story, The News of the World should be held responsible.
Though I am obviously fully in favour of complete freedom of the press, there are indeed - as people have been mistakenly arguing over this cartoon business for the last couple of weeks - occasions where publishing simply because you can is the wrong move.
No one could have predicted the massively over the top response to publishing those crappy cartoons. The News of the World was and is fully aware of the potential for a violent response in publishing this story. Yet they went ahead and ran it anyway, putting British troops in further danger, isolating them further from the average Iraqi. In a regular wartime situation, that could be considered tantamount to treason.