Sunday, February 12, 2006

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.

8 Comments:

Blogger CuriousHamster said...

It's fair to say that this, unlike Abu Ghraib, probably was the work of a few bad apples and we shouldn't get carried away.

My view is that this sort of behaviour from British soldiers, who's wages we pay, is unacceptable, war or no war, and that the soldiers involved should be held to account for their actions. It is their actions which are putting the troops lives at risk by antogonising the Iraqi population - the families and friends of those beaten, and the wider community in which they live, won't have had to read about this in the Screws. Publicly condemning those involved, and charging them, might actually be better for the security of the troops than continuing to supress such things.

On a related note:
...The News of the World should be held responsible.
It's a strange day when I find myself defending the Screws but isn't that a bit shooting the messenger? If they hadn't run the story, another newsaper would have. The only way to have stopped this becoming public knowledge would be through direct government censorship. Surely that's not a good idea?

For indirect responsibility, it won't surprise anyone to hear that for me there's only one candidate - the politician who sent the troops into Iraq based on a threat he knew he had exaggerated for policical purposes (see Robin Cook's Diaries). That's the man who's guilty of putting our troops lives in danger. And for what?

2/12/2006 01:24:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Shooting the messenger? Perhaps. But sometimes the messenger should have the good sense to realise that their message is going to help precisely no one, and so they should keep it to themselves.

As for government censorship of the press, as I say I'm against it as a matter of principle. But, as the great Stan Lee once wrote, with great power comes great responsibility. The power of the press to help stir up shit has been amply demonstrated over the last couple of weeks - by all means wait for this cartoon nonsense to diffuse and then publish them, but to run with the story now is just pouring more petrol on the fire. Bloody irresponsible.

I'm still intrigued to know precisely when Reid found out about it though - seems very odd that the government couldn't persuade a Murdoch paper not to run with a damaging story.

2/12/2006 02:29:00 pm  
Blogger CuriousHamster said...

I agree about the timing. Not good.

As to why a Murdoch paper ran this, I think the answer is in the NotW article:
Our source was horrified when he saw it and vowed the tape MUST be made public to force the army to clamp down on the abuse of prisoners... [Their emphasis]
Faced with the choice of publishing or losing the scoop to another rag, they published. Simple as that, I reckon. They'd probably got to the point where they'd delayed it for as long as they could and knew it was going to come out anyway.

2/12/2006 03:03:00 pm  
Blogger janinsanfran said...

I don't know about "isolating [the troops] further from the average Iraqi." Can't one assume the Iraqis know plenty about this kind of behavior by the soldiers (US proably worse than Brits, BTW)? It is the newspaper readers who may need to be informed.

2/13/2006 01:09:00 am  
Blogger lucien de la peste said...

Imagine our surprise when we found this on Saturday night.

2/13/2006 02:07:00 am  
Anonymous jonn said...

There's some irony in the fact that the paper to publish was the News of the World, given that its former editor Piers Morgan managed to kill his newspaper career stone dead by running a not dissimilar story in the Mirror.

2/13/2006 11:13:00 am  
Blogger Phil said...

"Can't one assume the Iraqis know plenty about this kind of behavior by the soldiers (US proably worse than Brits, BTW)? It is the newspaper readers who may need to be informed."

Yup. Like the line about how "covert ops" is a misnomer, since they're generally not at all covert if you're on the receiving end.

2/13/2006 04:19:00 pm  
Anonymous jonn said...

Phil: I'm assuming the idea is that the ops are covert right up to the moment when the bullet hits you...

For anyone who isn't entirely saturated by this one yet, by the way, I've just written a rather irritable rant about that whole thing.

2/13/2006 04:56:00 pm  

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