UK reverses position on Navy personnel selling their stories

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Reports have emerged that the British government allowed the British soldiers newly released from Iranian captivity to sell their stories to the media, after it had banned the rest of the British military from doing so. This double standard has drawn criticism from the media and families of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 15 sailors were allegedly found and captured in Iranian waters. They caused an uproar in the UK when it was discovered that they revealed information quickly and easily, and were very compliant when asked to write confessions and statements. Retired colonel Bob Stewart mourned the loss of the "old school" attitude towards revealing nothing when captured:

The sailors and marines held in Iran have been so compliant and have already said so much that they have caused excruciating embarrassment to many people in this country [Britain]

The government decided that the release of information would lessen the impact of criticism in the media and the popular conception that the troops had easily buckled under the pressure of the Iranian government.

The first media interviews appeared on Monday and were published in both the Sun and Daily Mirror newspapers. The payment was not disclosed to the public but reports stated that the amounts paid were 5 or 6 figure sums.

One sailor, Faye Turney, the only female in the group, stated that their confessions were forced under duress and the reports from the Iranian governments were false. Her interview came after an Iranian PR maneuver to counter claims that the government mistreated and inhumanely held the captives by broadcasting videos of the 15 watching T.V, eating food, and playing chess. Turney, 25, also stated that she was separated from her colleagues soon after being captured and held in solitary confinement for days on end. This conforms to her colleagues statements, who said that they too were put into solitary confinement and were unjustly treated.

Another sailor, Arthur Bachelor, 20 and the youngest in the group, told the Daily mirror that he was led to fear that he was to be executed and expected the worst from his captors and tormentors. These "soft" sailors go against a history of "stiff upper lip" behavior that was expected from troops in previous generations of soldiers. His officer, Royal Marine Captain Chris Air, has sympathized with his colleagues and believes that they have every right to ask for payment for their stories; he did not accept offers made to him by the media. He believed that telling their stories would "be part of the process to get things off their minds".

The leader of the captured group, Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carman, said he believed that accepting money for their ordeal was wrong. However, he told the media, he doesn't hate people who have been though an awful ordeal, and was fine with their "making a bit of money out of this".

Not everyone was as sympathetic to the released servicemen's ordeal. Families of servicemen and women in Iraq and Afghanistan have cried out in outrage over they way the soldiers handled their capture and the profit that they made out of it. Reg Keys, father of Thomas a soldier killed in Iraq, said:

There are people serving in Iraq with possibly far more interesting stories who are not allowed to talk to the media. When my son died, his colleagues were not allowed to speak to their families about it, let alone the press.

The British Military and Defense Ministry declared the capture and release of the 15 sailors "exceptional circumstances" and in their case lifted its policy on banning military members from talking to the media.

The former defense secretary of Britain, Micheal Heseltine, believed that it was a great injustice to allow the 15 to ask for payment for their stories:

What an extraordinary story that people who every day take calculated risks with their lives are expected to earn relatively small sums of money whilst people who get themselves taken hostage, in circumstances which are worth exploring, can make a killing

For many people, it is hard to understand why the 15 were so compliant towards the Iranian government, why they so readily gave away information and what happened to the hard-cut, no-nonsense military of past eras. The 15 were well treated when contrasted against former POW's, who suffered horrific torture and punishment without giving up a single word of useful information, and with the emerging videos of the well-treated captured troops, public trust and respect for the military has been struck a horrific blow.