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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 May, 2004, 09:36 GMT 10:36 UK
Iraq abuse allegations: Military view
With allegations circulating about abuse by UK and US troops on Iraqi prisoners, BBC News Online asked former members of the British military their reaction.

Send us your comments in response by using the form at the bottom of this page.


Colonel Rory Clayton, 54, former Royal Artillery Commander, Seventh Armoured Brigade, in the first Gulf War

I'd be very surprised if there was the faintest glimmer of truth in the allegations being made about British soldiers mistreating prisoners.

I have never heard of a military operation that did not screw up somewhere
If it were it would be a very serious event. It would go to the core of what the British Army stands for.

But when you bring in a large number of reservists who are not fully aware of the high standards of the British army and leave them unsupervised to operate outside of the chain of command, there is a possibility that someone somewhere will do something wrong.

However, I have never heard of a military operation that did not screw up somewhere.

Daily Mirror picture
The Daily Mirror pictures have caused outrage
Things do not run 100% right 100% of the time. I know this from my long career in the British army.

If these allegations were proven true, I suspect it would be one tiny rogue element, and be sure they will be dealt with ruthlessly and will be put away for a very long time.

As for who should bear the responsibility, the solution does not lie in calling for high-level resignations.

The solution lies in finding out what went wrong and making sure it does not happen again.


Commodore Pat Tyrrell, 54, former senior Royal Navy officer

On balance I think the allegations of abuse by British soldiers are true.

There have been many cases throughout the ages where this has happened among people who are frightened and who tend to react in such a way.

It wouldn't surprise me one bit if the allegations turn out to be true
So it wouldn't surprise me one bit if they turn out to be true. Although I suspect the incidence is not as widespread as in the US army.

In my time in the services I did encounter incidents which illustrated the ability of men to pick on one of their number and humiliate them.

I worked in intelligence for a time and came across incidents where people in the custody of our armed forces were not afforded their full human rights.

There are numerous examples from Northern Ireland, when people complained about mistreatment in terms of interrogation and the use of heavy handed tactics - designed to humiliate.

These sort of actions have to be eradicated.

Obviously the culprits responsible in this instance will have to be dealt with appropriately, and if senior officers knew this was going on, then that is negligence and they will have to admit it and action be taken against them - and that could include dismissal.


Doug Ritchie, 30, Sapper in the Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit, 1992 - 1998

Doug Ritchie
In 12 arrests in which I was involved, not once were the detainees abused in any way

Having served in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland I don't know of any incidents of abuse taking place.

I have been in similar situations where arrests were made and prisoners detained, but in 12 arrests in which I was involved in Northern Ireland, not once were the detainees abused in any way.

If it did happen, whoever did it would be out, we'd make sure of that. It would be a prime example of them screwing it up for everybody.

There is no way then that the Daily Mirror pictures are real.

First of all everything is too clean. And from what the two soldiers said, it sounds like they couldn't even identify their own vehicle. That would be unacceptable.

Also, why can't we see their faces? Or the faces of others around them?

I believe that both the pictures and the soldiers are fakes.

As far as the pictures of American soldiers abusing prisoners are concerned, that doesn't surprise me. It's my impression that US reservists tend to easily go off on one anyway.


Nick Welch, 42, Corporal, Green Jackets, 1984 - 1994

It's very difficult to switch off if you're guarding people who minutes earlier tried to kill you.
Even if you're pumped up from battle you're going to treat them as prisoners

But in a combat situation you wouldn't have a chance to abuse a prisoner in the way shown in the Daily Mirror pictures. Your superiors wouldn't allow that to go on.

Even if you're pumped up from battle - which you're likely to be - you're going to treat them as prisoners.

I don't believe that the soldiers who have appeared in the Mirror pictures are real anyway.

From their appearance, they look as though they have never been in combat.

I don't think there's any question about the pictures of American soldiers. It looks like the chain of command broke down there.

But what's also obvious is these soldiers were obviously bored and driven to this because they had nothing better to do.

As for the British army, I know of no instances of abuse of this kind.

Interviews by Stephen Fottrell.

Send us your reaction to the opinions expressed here using the postform below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received:

The problem is training. In the US, reservists receive little military training. Most of the time, we did very little, and attendance was always poor. Now take those same kids and throw them half a world away where everyone hates you and you're constantly watching your back. Without the proper training, professionalism falls apart in the face of fear and anger. This was a failure of leadership and training.
Anon, USA

In my experience the officers who came up through the ranks were of a far higher standard
Bev Shutt, UK

As an ex sapper 1964 - 1972, serving in the Middle East and Northern Ireland I witnessed arrests that could be termed rough. But never saw abuse once a person was in custody. I feel sure it can happen, but not from combat troops. The abuse is more likely to happen from military police trying to display a macho image. They are normally cowards who take pleasure beating defenceless prisoners; it is part of history in every conflict. The so called officers in charge should take full responsibility for the actions of their troops.

The average British officer has little or no understanding of the soldiers under his command. In my experience the officers who came up through the ranks were of a far higher standard and held the respect of their troops far more than the silver spoon crowd. It may be interesting to look at some of the treatment served out to our own troops in British military detention centres within the UK. Believe me it would also shock the nation.
Bev Shutt, UK

I'm ex military and served in Ireland. It was widely accepted that using force when necessary, was accepted by the government as standard practice. One example was when we caught three Provisional IRA suspects casing the area around a police station where other Provisional IRA suspects where held. Our orders were to detain the three Provisional IRA and extract what information was available. We got what we wanted. They lost their lives.

This happened all the time. Provisional IRA prisoners where released from the maze, only to be caught again and interrogated, then the evidence was cleaned up. What is going on in Iraq is only the tip of an iceberg that you really don't want to see.
Anon, London

Don't judge soldiers too harshly on 'expected' standards of behaviour
David, Woking, UK
I was a soldier in the Royal Artillery from 1974-1985 including four tours of Northern Ireland plus the Falklands War. I personally have never witnessed any abuse of prisoners, although as Dan commented earlier during the arrest process, physical violence is often part of it and depending on which side of the process you are depends if it is abuse or necessary restraint. Don't judge soldiers too harshly on 'expected' standards of behaviour. Civilians have no experience of the conditions that they are working in every day. When you risk your life daily and deal with people bent on gaining some reward for killing or capturing you then you can comment with understanding rather than some supposed safe civilised position.
David, Woking, UK

The young sapper interviewed says the same thing many of the public are saying about the Mirror's photos. Too clean, no faces, an inability by soldiers to identify their own trucks and guns. Any soldier lacking that kind of knowledge would be out or back to basic training let alone a high threat combat situation. Still now that police forensics have been brought in we'll know for sure.
Rick, UK

While I do not, in any way, condone the sort of activities that these pictures depict, the attitude of some of the people here sickens me. They are quite happy to sleep safely in their beds at night, and exercise the freedoms that are routinely defended by our country's armed forces. Yet they have absolutely no understanding of the stresses and strains that our lads are under. How dare they criticise what they have no idea or experience of. In every barrel you will find rotten apples, and the armed forces are no exception. They are no worse however, than any other large group. You just need to look at the crime statistics in this country.
Soldier X, Engalnd

It makes you really wonder, if it wasn't for the election year, would anybody have known about this. God only knows what is happening this election year behind closed doors in the USA.
Ahmed Kamel, Cairo, Egypt

Let it serve as a painful and shameful reminder for generations to come
Lee, London, UK
I am sure that similar abuses may have been carried out during the last World War (as mentioned to me by a veteran who served in the Far East). Victims were too scared to speak out then. Let's hope some good will come out of all this - which is there are no real winners in a war or conflict. Let it serve as a painful and shameful reminder for generations to come.
Lee, London, UK

Doubtless there was misconduct on the part of some of the 250 or so military assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison. Doubtless also it will be dealt with appropriately. There is no justifiable cause for US bashing, however. They represent a very small proportion of the large US contingency in Iraq, which has served honourably. Numerically the US provides most of the soldiers, it stands to reason they also will have most of the problems, along with most of the casualties. It would be neither fair or correct to say that this is tolerated conduct. One needs to consider that in any society there are members who do little to make their countrymen proud, simply pick up a newspaper and read the headlines.
Anon, USA

I am furious that the Mirror should endanger the lives of our soldiers. I know a young soldier just posted to the Gulf and now at greater risk due to the irresponsible publication of dubious pictures. Even if the pictures were genuine the Mirror should have handed them to the MOD to investigate before putting British lives at risk to sell a few more newspapers.
Rob, London, UK

The debate on the veracity of the photographs will no doubt continue for a while. I would rather not judge too early. Fake or not, the damage is done. I would however like to respond to Colonel Clayton's remarks. At a time when the Territorial Army constitutes up to 30% of Op Telic (the current Iraqi deployment) it simply will not do to say that they are 'not fully aware of the high standards of the British Army' and to suggest they effectively ran amok whilst left unsupervised. I spent six years as a regular army officer, and have never been in the TA; I therefore have no axe to grind. However, I am well aware of the high standards that they are capable of demonstrating. I have recently come back from working in Iraq, and my encounters with the TA left me much impressed. Indeed, they left a better impression than some regular line infantry regiments with whom I had dealings during my years of service.
Sandy Carrick-Buchanan, Khartoum, Sudan

Britain, send us more of your fine noble boys to solve our problems!
Klara, Belgrade
My friend's boyfriend belongs to the British Army, and is now stationed in Kosovo. Previously he was in Bosnia, where, according to his own words, he felt free to shoot at children playing. For no reason. For fun. And who cares, right? Nobody back home will ever know about it. And if they did, would it matter? Britain, send us more of your fine noble boys to solve our problems!
Klara, Belgrade, Serbia

To Klara from Belgrade: I worked for the military wing of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Bosnia for two years and never heard of a case similar to what you described. Which does not mean that such horrors absolutely could not happen. But we need to remember that the overwhelming majority of atrocities during that war were not committed by foreigners. It is also true that many more atrocities would have been committed had not the international community finally intervened. I am afraid that we in the former Yugoslavia still have to learn to resolve our mutual disputes by peaceful means before we start throwing accusations at others.
Ljiljana, Sarajevo, Bosnia

As a former TA soldier I know all TA soldiers receive annual training in how to deal with POWs - to blame one section of the army on flimsy evidence is somewhat naive, and even if the case is proved the prisoners fate is somewhat better than if the roles were reversed. Just ask John Nicholls or Andy McNab.
D Jewkes, Wolverhampton, England

I know through experience that all British soldiers have to go through an introduction and are then lectured and tested on the articles of the Geneva Convention regarding POWs
David Collins, Darlington

I served in the Light Infantry for 17 years, during this time I spent a good deal of it in NI, my regiment has recently left Iraq (Basra). I am also in contact with NCO's both senior and junior who have served over there. The feedback I get is that although there is a great deal of tension over there and some incidents have occurred during which arrests were made, there was no mistreatment of prisoners by anyone involved even though the prisoner was said to be involved in the execution of two British soldiers.

I know through experience that all British soldiers have to go through an introduction and are then lectured and tested on the articles of the Geneva Convention regarding POWs and their treatment.

I know that in every regiment, regardless of which regiment, that there is always a small element that will always try to be a law unto themselves and try to disregard the chain of command, it is during such operations as the Iraq war that these elements usually rear their heads, especially if the NCOs in charge are not in complete control, but again this come down to standards and the training our recruits receive, private soldiers no longer have any respect or dare I say it "fear" of their NCOs, this leads to contempt by those who dislike authority and eventually the breakdown of discipline within the command.

As for the Daily Mirror - Piers Morgan, hang your head in shame.
David Collins, Darlington, UK

I served for 19 years and have never known of, or witnessed any abusive conduct by British soldiers.
Roland Powell (Former Staff Sergeant RAMC), Barnsley, UK

Who took the photographs and why? Was any money involved in passing the pictures to the media... these sort of questions need answering!
Len Williams

It's not the Daily Mirror who has to explain why British soldiers are faking torture photos of Iraqi citizens, but the MOD
John Gurd, Glasgow

Many individual elements of these pictures have been criticised in an effort to dismiss them as fakes, even to the extent of the way the laces of the boots have been laced up (which sounds somewhat desperate to me). But what should be clear is that no one with less than the resources of a major movie company could obtain all the equipment - truck, rifle, uniforms, etc (and how did they get hold of an Iraqi T-shirt?) - in order to take such pictures. No one except those serving in Iraq.

The pictures seem to be staged rather than faked to me. But even in the unlikely event that they are faked or enacted, it is clear that the only people in a position to do this are British soldiers themselves, probably in a pathetic bid to have something to trade with their American colleagues. So even then, it's not the Daily Mirror who has to explain why British soldiers are faking torture photos of Iraqi citizens, but the MOD.
John Gurd, Glasgow

John Gurd is sceptical about the MOD pointing out that the boots are laced the wrong way in the photos. In fact, the way to lace your boots is one of the first things you¿re taught in the army. This isn¿t just cosmetic, in the event that you are wounded in the foot, a knife can be slipped underneath the laces and the boot cut off quickly and easy. So boots are laced in an over-under fashion rather than criss-cross as in the photos.
Dan, UK

With respect, it is however a little early to blame men and women who give up their free time
Reservist, London

I note Colonel Clayton's comments, but having served in Basra as a reservist I was sorry to see that he suggests that these outrages may have been perpetrated by members of the reserve forces. While internal evidence suggests that if the Daily Mirror's photographs were faked, the equipment they depict may be linked to members of the TA, there is nothing to suggest that British reservists in Iraq have behaved other than in as professional a manner as their full-time comrades.

If crimes have been committed, those responsible - from the regular or reserve forces - must be found, subjected to due process and severely punished. With respect, it is however a little early to blame men and women who give up their free time for training, and have currently left behind their jobs and families to support the armed forces when under pressure.
Reservist, 40, London, England

Without a doubt there is abuse going on in Iraq perpetrated by the minority. I am ex military and was in one of the services during the first gulf war. I remember some British Army soldiers showing me their photographs which included a picture of the face of a dead Iraqi solider stuck to the front of their tank and another British solider picking his nose with the remains of an Iraqi soldier's index finger.

This abuse will be happening - not just now but in any conflict at any period in history. Anyone who thinks that this is not happening is simply sticking their head in the sand. However, it is simply a fact of war. It's a harsh thing to say but this is the kind of thing that the public should simply never know - they will never understand what it is like.

Exposing what is a fact of war has jeopardized the safety of the coalition forces and has undermined everything that the coalition forces have been sent there to do. Shame on the Mirror for doing it. Unless you've actually been in the military you will likely never understand this regardless of the discussions.
Anonymous

To Anonymous: I agree that this sort of barbarity is an inevitable consequence of going to war. The soldiers are told to impose their government's will, if necessary by killing people. To ask them to respect the rights of their enemy at the same time is absurd. It is particularly difficult if the enemy is not clearly identifiable as it was in Northern Ireland and as it seems to be in Iraq. Despite the yank-bashing attitude of many of your respondents, the British army has a long, well documented, tradition of brutality towards civilians. Just ask any Northern Irish Catholic, or Amnesty International.

As regards publication, the public deserve to know the consequences of their government's action. We vote for our governments, and if they choose to go to war this will be the result. We all share responsibility.
Brian Murphy, Dublin, Ireland

Nick Welch has a key point to make in casting doubt on whether the figures in the pictures are soldiers. So are the pictures fakes? Photographic experts should be brought it to judge that - but even an amateur can see that many of the shots have been posed.
Edmund Burke, Kingston upon Thames, UK

As a former soldier, I can say that in the process of arrests, fists fly on both sides and people get bruised and hurt. But the systematic abuse of prisoners by members of the British Forces is very unlikely.

There used to be occasions, certainly in the training of selected volunteers, where interrogation techniques were used on them which included humiliation, sleep deprivation, disorientation and discomfort, which fall short of physical torture, but could have longer term psychological effects on the untrained victim if used over a long period.

Such a process, if it were to occur in reality, would be undertaken by specialists against specific targets and would only be sanctioned with the authority of higher command. Whether higher command would give sanction in this day and age, I do not know, but think not.
Ian Coles

During the war last year British soldiers were caught when they sent photos of prisoners being abused home to be developed. Why then is everyone saying that these ones must be fake?
James Druker, Bristol

The general standards of the British Army have been slipping for a while
Fraser Barrons, Auckland

I was an officer in the Royal Artillery 1991-95, including one tour in Northern Ireland. As regards to the American photos, no surprise. The American forces have a truly poor reputation, so I hate to think what the reservists must be like! A comment here. In Vietnam there were many documented cases of serious abuse of prisoners by American forces, but here the situation seems to be of a different order. I think this is a reflection of public attitudes, as well as the immediacy of modern communications.

As regards to the British photos. They appear to be too clinical, too staged. It is far less likely that British troops would be involved in such activities, though it is definitely not impossible. In my time in the British Army I never saw any such thing, but I did hear of abuse in other units in Northern Ireland. The general standards of the British Army have been slipping for a while, in my opinion, combine this with the darker elements of human nature and anything is possible!
Fraser Barrons, Auckland, New Zealand

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