April 06, 2007
My Inner Neocon & Iran's Shatt Across the Bow
No, I don't want us or Britain to go to war with Iran. Heck, I'm a "cut and runner" on Iraq from before it happened. But am I the only one not of neoconnish-hawkish outlook who is a little perturbed that uniformed professional British sailors and Marines, engaged in lawful patrolling and probable legitimate intelligencing, roll over and "confess"? (Side note to antiwar folks: the coalition presence is now lawful, regardless of other moral or prudential non-rectitude.) Civilians, I understand. Me, I'll give away your social security number when faced with a nail clipper. But what happened to stiff upper lip; name, rank and serial number? If they were tortured or threatened I won't judge, but at least I'd want to know. UPDATE: Rolling over does make a little more sense after these revelations of mock executions, etc..
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Well, they're free now, and they can tell.
Posted by: sanaa at April 7, 2007 01:35 AM
lawful, legitimate, schmelitimate. All power games. No, it's not about morale or pacifism. But sobs punching sobs. They could rape each other to death for all I care.
Let me speculate on the thinking, whether institutional or just on an individual basis:
Name, rank and serial number is good for European nations that generally abide by the rules of war, treat prisoners well and intend to return them at the end of hostilities, or something like that. But with those barbarous Persians, how do you know how this will end up? Go with the flow, and make meaningless gestures as long as you don't compromise the strategic position of the navy.
Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at April 7, 2007 03:43 AM
Bah, playing ball.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at April 7, 2007 05:12 AM
The British government really, really doesn't want to get sucked into a war with Iran.
But British public opinion is still stuck in the colonial era, assuming that if we went head-to-head with some foreigners we'd beat them quite easily.
So if anything had happened to the captives, it would have been very difficult politically to forestall an escalation. It's the kind of thing that could conceivably have brought down the government.
So I'd imagine that the general protocol for anyone captured by Iran is to roll over and defuse the situation as quickly as possible.
Pure speculation on my part, of course.
Posted by: waterboy at April 7, 2007 06:39 AM
Another thing. Most of what the captives 'suffered', according to their press conference, is pretty standard procedure. It's not like we'd ply Iranians captured in Iraq with tea and biscuits and talk about the weather.
Hell, when the British police make multiple arrests in an investigation the suspects are usually taken to separate police stations so that collusion can be eliminated while they're being interrogated. It's not like they were kept in isolation for years, Terry Waite style.
Posted by: waterboy at April 7, 2007 06:49 AM
I think waterboy's on the money. This Guardian article shows how UK gov asked Bush to keep his grubby hands out of this, otherwise they'd get their lovely little war. Some Iranians wanted war too, of course. But Iran is politically opaque, and it seems that the sensible Iranians eventually won out. So kudos to Blair for realising what this was about, and playing it patiently.
The kung-fu master hides his powers until they are needed. Or maybe UK is using tai-chi rather.
Posted by: Klaus at April 7, 2007 07:39 AM
yeah, i'm sure the soldiers were put to worse treatment behind the scenes. but after years and years of playing down or even justifying the practices at guantanamo bay, abu ghraib, bagram and the "illegal combattant" thing more generally -- well, to hear the british and american governments sob over captured soldiers being displayed on TV ... it just comes off wrong. i distinctly remember people telling them this after guantamo was first established: how are you going to protest when your soldiers get the same treatment?
oh well. terry waite i don't know, but terry jones agrees.
Posted by: alle at April 7, 2007 09:09 AM
My sole focus is on professional soldier behavior. Even the amateurs and innocents in captivity at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib didn't smile and wave at the camera. And the captives in Iran of 1980 wrote letters in bad dictated English after direct threats, and kept their mouths shut after months in captivity. And the crew of the Pueblo had the decency to subtly extend their middle fingers in a group shot, after extended torture and signing of clearly hyperbolic statements not in our political vocabulary.
I think Jose Padilla is a "bad guy" but after years of sub-constitutional confinement he hasn't rolled over in public, and saluted the flag.
It's simple, I do think front-line trained professional soldiers (and that's the key issue for me), unless grievously abused, are expected to clam up and be sullen when captured. There is no evidence they were grievously abused or threatened, so far.
I'm not particularly mad at the Iranians as the geographical and legal positioning are still vague. They have the legal right to protect their borders as much as the coalition has the legal right to watch and patrol from the other side. Putting them in suits to wave is silly display, but it's better than the hoodings we've been known to do today, and they did publicly back in 1979.
Posted by: matthew hogan at April 7, 2007 10:57 AM
I understand your position. It does leave a bad taste. It doesn't sound like the Iranians did much to them at all.
Posted by: pantom at April 7, 2007 02:52 PM
Now that the fuller story is out, it seems clearer and more understandable. Hence the update. Mock executions, etc. Still, the waving?
Posted by: matthew hogan at April 7, 2007 04:11 PM
I think that the UK is more willing to take the political cost of issuing apologies and having soldiers "confess" than to have dead soldiers needing to be avenged. I think your comparison to other cases makes the case that the soldiers had to have rules of engagement that allowed them to "give in" if they were submitted to pressure tactics. I mean, as you have demonstrated, this is not the first time this has happened to allied forces, so they must have had contingency plans for such situations.
In realpolitik terms, the most the Iranians had to win out of this event was a propagandistic victory at home, whereas the British stood to win nothing and could be drawn in a costly war, esp. with an unreliable Bush looking over the shoulder. The British have lost a fair amount of credibility in this war so a few soldiers admitting to crossing a murky naval boundary is a pretty piddly thing.
Posted by: Frandroid Atreides at April 7, 2007 04:32 PM
Frankly, from a state interest POV, given the overall incompetence of the reference ally, playing the hand as played was perfect.
As for the soldiers, eh, so the bloody fuck what? Are you a bloody cretin, showmanship. Only fools are bothered by such "show trials" and I see no reason why anyone should particularly hold it against them. Stupid irrational emotionalism aside.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at April 7, 2007 05:38 PM
It's part of the essential showmanship of being a professional soldier, you don't suck up to your enemy or provide information when captured. Emotionalism is a heavy part of soldiering competently.
And at first it looked like they began "confessing" quickly and without much pressure beyond normal captivity. With more out about the treatment, not so hard to fathom anymore.
Posted by: matthew hogan at April 7, 2007 06:05 PM
I have a friend who's an officer in the Royal Navy. He spent a couple of years as a liason officer seconded to the U.S. Navy. He was quite surprised and, indeed, disturbed, to see how much more "intense" the U.S. Navy was compared to the Royal Navy.
It's not that the Royal Navy wasn't professional. On the contrary, the Royal Navy was extremely professional. Being an officer in the Royal Navy was something like being an executive in a major corporation. By contrast, the U.S. Navy was more like a religious cult filled with deeply devoted fanatics.
Posted by: Anonymous at April 9, 2007 01:24 PM
I think Frandroid A and the Lounsbury have this one right on the money. There had to have been RN standing orders on what to do if you were captured, and I would guess that "say and do whatever you have to that will get you out in one piece short of giving operational intelligence " is in fact the standing order. The British military is nothing if not realistic.
By the way, I am sorry to say I read the Terry Jones piece and IMO it was one of the most fatuous piles of Grauniad drek I've had the displeasure of reading outside of Zoe Williams' cooking article.
Posted by: Antiquated Tory at April 9, 2007 04:48 PM