Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another hero

Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith will face his court-martial this week for refusing to serve in Iraq. But while the British military is prosecuting him for disobeying orders (the moral duty of any soldier asked to do something illegal), the refusenik bug is spreading. The latest is Ben Griffin, a former SAS soldier, who told his commanders that he would refuse to return to Iraq to fight in a war of aggression. He had expected to face court-martial, but instead was allowed to resign with a glowing testimonial.

Griffin is interviewed by the Telegraph here, and it is well worth the read. He pans the conduct of the occupation, and particularly the racism and violence of American troops:

"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."

As he says, "you can not invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that".


I don't believe it's the actual court-martial, merely a five day preliminary hearing on legal issues.

Of course given there is probably going to be very little disagreement about the facts ('yes I accept that order X was made, yes I accept that I refused to follow it') this may well be where most of the fireworks are. The defence is a legal one ('what I did wasn't illegal') rather than a factual one ('I didn't do it') so we'll probably have a fair idea how it's going to go.

The defence is of course a little more tenuous given theat Kendall-Smith wasn't ordered to be in the invasion force, but the reconstruction force (which did receive Security Council backing).

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/15/2006 11:19:00 AM

I'm thinking they will find a way to weasel out of even deciding if the war is illegal or not.... that could backfire on the administration too badly... I suspect they will decide to determine whether he had reasonable grounds to think it might be an illegal war, or some such tangent...

That way he can be excused but the war not delcared illegal...


Posted by Anonymous : 3/15/2006 03:35:00 PM

I'm reminded of S Sassoon's "trial".

Posted by Unknown : 3/15/2006 04:29:00 PM

A Soldier's Declaration

I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects witch actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerity's for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.

S. Sassoon,

(Open Letter, published in The Times newspaper, 31 July 1917)

Posted by Unknown : 3/15/2006 04:46:00 PM

You might be interested in these links:

1st is a report from an annual special forces conference discussing falling morale and British-US relations: "One retired senior US Army Special Forces general criticized the Bush administration for "tearing up the first ten amendments of the US Constitution" and "throwing them into the trash can."

2nd is this report of a speech by Howard who critques the heck out of the Iraq war and then says he's not going to repeat his remarks in public. The server's currently down, but this is the link - keep trying, it's great:


Posted by Anonymous : 3/15/2006 08:40:00 PM

> "you can not invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that".

there is a difference between the government and the people.

Just because if you wandered throught the bronx you might get mugged doesnt mean Bush is evil it just means that there are some bad men hanging out in that suburb. Similarly just because there are bad american soldiers doesn't mean the government is bad.

It just happens that the US has an army full of certain types of people
as is designed for certain things and full of certain types of people just like the chinese army or any other army. This means it will tend to behave in a certain way and be good at certain things.

But as a general or a president you dont really control that. There is no possibility of sending your "nice army" you only have one army and you either send it or you don't.

Of course that doesn't mean you can't move in the appropriate direction. But I dont really know what is happening on that front.

Posted by Genius : 3/15/2006 08:48:00 PM

The point is Genius, that since they started in 2003, the US forces have done many things to palpably exacerbate the situation, which taken together, cannot be put down to a few bad apples. The initial decisions such as disbanding the Iraqi Army and not replacing the resultant vacuum, can perhaps be put down to SNAFU. Other actions, such as Falluja to name one of many examples, have played right into the hands of the insurgents. I agree with you, it's definitely not the soldier-in-the-street's fault. But where's the command accountability?

The real point about Iraq is: who benefits if (or when), the situation deteriorates into civil war? Guess what? The Kurds have most of the oil fields. Who's been quietly building ties with the Kurds?


Posted by Anonymous : 3/15/2006 10:20:00 PM

Genius: In an army, they have these things called "orders". These orders are set ultimately by policies laid down by politicians (people like George W Bush or DonalD Rumsfled), and its perfectly possible for them include things like "don't shoot people unless they're actually pointing a weapon at you", or "try and stop looting if you see it", or "don't behave like racist imperial overloards to the locals" or "do not under any circumstances torture prisoners".

The fact that they don't, or didn't in May 2003, speaks volumes about the actual interest of those US politicians in the security, safety and welfare of the Iraqi people they claimed to be "saving"

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/15/2006 11:33:00 PM

I/S - I think that's a little unfair, I am confident the rules of engagement as ultimately laid down by Rumsfeld would have prohibited the shooting of the unarmed/undanderous.

There will also have been general orders relating to the treatment of prisoners, it was following breaches of these accepted protocols at Abu
Ghraib that the charges were brought against the various soldiers who faced court-martial or other punishment for their involvement.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 3/16/2006 12:02:00 AM

The rules of engagement as laid down by Rumsfeld and as explained by numerous sources at the time were for "maximum force protection" - "if it looks remotely like a threat, take it out".

The consequences of these rules are graphically described here.

The trigger-happy attitude of US troops was fully sanctioned by their chain of command - which means that there is no question where the responsibility lies.

As for torture, there's a sorry tale there about the leakage of techniques authorised for use in Guantanamo and by special forces into the mooks at Abu Ghraib - but it is clear that Rumsfeld etc did not set or enforce a clear policy saying "no torture". And how could they, when they were producing memos authorising [PDF] the very behaviour seen at Abu Ghraib?

I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm being unfair at all.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/16/2006 12:31:00 AM

My argument is not "a few bad aples" it is that they are apples not oranges.

1) I'm sure they have orders. but if you were to send the NZ army to fight an air battle with israel they would still make a hash of it no matter what you ordered them to do.

2) Im not sure many of your suggestions make clear sense to the US military. Wherein lies the problem.

3) the US govt gets beaten up for loosing soldiers and they are used to the minimization of day to day US soldier loses strategy due to the pressure at home from the left (such a strategy is trigger happy). Also the army is built on the concept of winning battles there are bigger dynamics involved here than just orders.

Posted by Genius : 3/16/2006 08:04:00 AM