Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Different Strokes

Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith was in court today for refusing to go to Iraq. He maintains that the British involvement in Iraq is unlawful and that he is therefore obliged to refuse to take part. Whether you agree with him or not will obviously depend on your view of the invasion itself and it's not something I intend to go over again right now.

It is interesting to read the comments of the prosecutor though.
Mr Perry said the prosecution's case was also that the orders given to Flt Lt Kendall-Smith dated from June last year, by which point British forces were in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government, meaning their deployment could not be illegal.

Additionally, it was not Flt Lt Kendall-Smith's responsibility to judge the legality of orders given to him, Mr Perry said.
What's that you say? Not his responsibility? That's not what they said at Nuremberg.

That aside, what's really interesting about this case is the way Kendall-Smith is being treated in comparison to another soldier who refused to serve in Iraq.

Ben Griffin was an S.A.S. soldier.
During a week's leave in March 2005 he told his commanding officer in a formal interview that he had no intention of returning to Iraq because he believed that the war was morally wrong. Moreover, he said he believed that Tony Blair and the Government had lied to the country and had deceived every British serviceman and woman serving in Iraq.

Mr Griffin expected to be placed under arrest, labelled a coward, court-martialed and imprisoned for daring to air such views.

Instead, however, he was allowed to leave the Army with his exemplary military record intact and with a glowing testimonial from his commanding officer, who described him as a "balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions".
Mr Griffin's story is remarkable, not least for his account of the behaviour of US special forces in Iraq. I've mentioned him before but it's definitely worth taking the time to read the full interview he gave to the Telegraph if you've not already done so.

Why are these two men being treated so differently for doing in effect exactly the same thing? I can think of only one reason. Griffin, who did go to Iraq initially, has seen things which the government would prefer were not widely known. To take him to court and have him testify would be extremely embarrasing and damaging to the "coalition of the willing". Rather than have these truths become widely known, the government, through the military, allowed him to leave quietly in the hope that his story would not generate too much publicity.

I mean, do the British public really want to know that a former soldier in one of the toughest, hardest, best trained, most dedicated special forces units in the world says this about the behaviour of the soldiers of our closest ally?
"The Americans had this catch-all approach to lifting suspects. The tactics were draconian and completely ineffective. The Americans were doing things like chucking farmers into Abu Ghraib or handing them over to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well they were going to be tortured.

The Americans had a well-deserved reputation for being trigger happy. In the three months that I was in Iraq, the soldiers I served with never shot anybody. When you asked the Americans why they killed people, they would say 'we were up against the tough foreign fighters'. I didn't see any foreign fighters in the time I was over there."
"As far as the Americans were concerned, the Iraqi people were sub-human, untermenschen. You could almost split the Americans into two groups: ones who were complete crusaders, intent on killing Iraqis, and the others who were in Iraq because the Army was going to pay their college fees. They had no understanding or interest in the Arab culture. The Americans would talk to the Iraqis as if they were stupid and these weren't isolated cases, this was from the top down. There might be one or two enlightened officers who understood the situation a bit better but on the whole that was their general attitude. Their attitude fuelled the insurgency. I think the Iraqis detested them."
No. I think not.

Griffin's views pretty much exactly reflect what I've been saying to anyone who'll listen. The attitude and tactics of the US military have fuelled the insurgency. The US military never did learn how to do effective, properly targetted counter-insurgency operations*. Asking the US military to stabilise and rebuild a shattered country like Iraq was always going to be like asking the bull to repair all the broken china. It's to do with the way they're trained. Maximum firepower, minimum risk to themselves. Any British expert in counter-insurgency operations could have told Blair that in 2002. Or 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005. Or 2006...

Thanks to Gary for reminding me that Kendall-Smith also went to Iraq. Twice. So, just to be clear, both men have refused to return to Iraq.

* To be fair, the US military does have a small number of experts in the field of counter-insurgency. Not nearly enough to change the attitudes of an entire army though.

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