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March 13, 2006 2:03 AM   Subscribe

'I didn't join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy' A former SAS soldier talks about his experience in Iraq. [more inside]
posted by gsb (48 comments total)

 
At one point during the interview:
Mr Griffin said he believed that the Americans soldiers viewed the Iraqis in the same way as the Nazis viewed Russians, Jews and eastern Europeans in the Second World War, when they labelled them "untermenschen".

"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."
And obviously, one could talk about British behaviour on the ground as being far from impeccable.
posted by gsb at 2:05 AM on March 13, 2006


The fact that he was given an honourable discharge suggests to me that Griffin's views are not that uncommon in the British Army, perhaps even at senior levels.
posted by salmacis at 2:15 AM on March 13, 2006


[this is good]
posted by blacklite at 2:16 AM on March 13, 2006


There are some details I don't understand. Why not transfer him to a unit not in Iraq? Or is he too much of a danger to keep once he has morally objected to one deployment despite all his valuable experience and training?
posted by srboisvert at 2:46 AM on March 13, 2006


it's a good story, I read it yesterday on the Sunday Telegraph and I wanted to post it but then, you know, one does not want to be shrill.

that SAS gentleman is obviously a raving WTO protester, an anti-American loony lefty, and his opinions will certainly be ignored (or discarded) by the liberal US media

my favorite part:
If we were on a joint counter-terrorist operation, for example, we would radio back to our headquarters that we were not going to detain certain people because, as far as we were concerned, they were not a threat because they were old men or obviously farmers, but the Americans would say 'no, bring them back'.

"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 [the notorious prison in Baghdad where US troops abused and tortured Iraqi detainees] 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.
posted by matteo at 3:12 AM on March 13, 2006


Srboisvert, I think this is the deciding comment:
But I found that when I was out in Iraq that I couldn't keep my views separate from my work without compromising my role as a soldier.

Once you've admitted to that, I doubt the military would risk keeping you. A soldier's not supposed to question orders. And it is highly likely that after Iraq this man would start doubting any mission he might be sent on.

To me it sounded like a mutual decision. He wanted to leave and the army obliged, without too many questions.

Good article.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:14 AM on March 13, 2006


that SAS gentleman is obviously a raving WTO protester, an anti-American loony lefty, and his opinions will certainly be ignored (or discarded) by the liberal US media

That the article was front page on the reliably anti-Bush Telegraph will certainly lend support to that point of view.
posted by three blind mice at 3:26 AM on March 13, 2006


Is the Telegraph reliably anti-Bush?
posted by the cuban at 3:36 AM on March 13, 2006


Reliably anti-Bush? Of all the UK broadsheets, the Telegraph is the most right-wing.
posted by matthewr at 3:38 AM on March 13, 2006


the fact he got a glowing testimonial is highly significant
posted by quarsan at 3:41 AM on March 13, 2006


the article was front page on the reliably anti-Bush Telegraph

Ack! Is that a parody or genuine pro-Bush argument? I can't tell anymore.
posted by Slogby at 3:59 AM on March 13, 2006


Telegraph is not reliably anti-Bush by any means. It does tend to play to the more populist Right-wingers which means any foreign leader is not going to be portrayed in a great light most of the time.

Very interesting article. It's not surprising that a war supported largely on racist grounds is being pursued in a racist way.

Of course, we'll always have the NY Times et al to tell us that the problem was "thousands of years of fighting" and not the actual implementation of the war an behavior of Americans.
posted by cell divide at 4:01 AM on March 13, 2006


As a long term Telegraph reader I would suggest the following. Firstly, although it is oft described and considered by many Right Wing, they do provide articles written by people from the whole range of the political spectrum. It is generally in the Editorial that the Right wing perspective shows through.

In terms of its viewpoint on the Bush Administration, it is generally pro-US and anti-European. However, what must be understood is that British Conservatism bears little resemblance to the Neo-Conservative Bush Administration. This is why you do occasionally see these critical articles and they are in no wayt at odds with the Conservative background of the Telegraph (which is what seems to be suggested above).
posted by numberstation at 4:01 AM on March 13, 2006


"a war supported largely on racist grounds"
Is it 'cos oil is black?
posted by NinjaPirate at 4:46 AM on March 13, 2006




This adds a whole new dimension to all those "Support Our Troops" magnets.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 5:18 AM on March 13, 2006


tbm, I'm not sure that helped your position: two consecutive weekly guest opinion pieces by the same man; a liberal British ex-pat member of the intelligentsia who specialises in anti-Bush rhetoric.

How about these two?

The Tele is no wild-haired, hippie-child Guardian, is it?
posted by NinjaPirate at 5:24 AM on March 13, 2006


I was a bit surprised to find that he expected to be prosecuted. As far as I'm concerned, he did the right thing: Performed his duty while in-theater and voiced his concern to his superiors when he was back in the UK on leave.

And Slimepuppy: A soldier's not supposed to question orders.

Oh yes, he is. He is supposed to be able to tell lawful and not lawful (I don't know the proper English terms) orders from each other, and disobey when necessary. He's also supposed to act on his best judgement, preventing another charge of the Light Brigade.
posted by Harald74 at 6:23 AM on March 13, 2006


disobey when necessary
Woah. That's really not what they told me when I was in the army. As far as the military is concerned, the altercation in Iraq is lawful and therefore their actions there are not to be disobeyed out of personal belief of the overall reasons for the war.

Also, 1854 != 2006.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:45 AM on March 13, 2006


The Tele is no wild-haired, hippie-child Guardian, is it?

Ninja, you are failing to grasp the polaroid nature of American politics. It isn't how often your say things that are pro or anti bush that determines how your categorization develops. It is if you ever say anything anti-bush that captures you instantly as a rabid liberal. There isn't even a few seconds wait for the ink to dry.
posted by srboisvert at 6:53 AM on March 13, 2006


TBS:
Reiterating the spirit of previous comments, please note that The Telegraph endorsed Bush in 2004. It is fair to consider their approach as objective with regard to American politics, a la The Economist (pro Bush in 2000 and pro Kerry in 2004).

You're clearly not a Brit -- the very idea that the Torygraph could be considered anything other than right of centre is quite hilarious. But, to be fair, they will "tell it like it is" -- like most UK broadsheets and criticise politicians where they should despite overt political allegiances. (I really can't believe I'm defending UK broadsheets in particular The Telegraph.)
posted by NailsTheCat at 7:45 AM on March 13, 2006


on the reliably anti-Bush Telegraph


so the Telegraph belongs to the US media now? did you misread my comment or do you think that London is in the USA?
posted by matteo at 7:50 AM on March 13, 2006


Great. This is what Canada has to look forward to, when America gets tired of buying our resources, and comes to take them. Thanks for the look ahead, gsb.
posted by slatternus at 8:18 AM on March 13, 2006


I have had friends that served in British Army (Desert Storm) and they all told stories of American trigger happiness/incompetence that was in reality far more dangerous to them than the Iraqi Republican Guard turned out to be. That's not surprising. What is surprising to me are the "untermenschen" allegations of racism made, and I wonder how widespread those attitudes are.

Over the past ten or so years, I had thought we had tried to develop a professional, duty-based ("you do it for the man next to you" a la Black Hawk Down) fighting man, as opposed to the violent ingenue that needs to demonize or hate the enemy in order to be properly motivated.

I suppose in a fighting force the numbers in the several hundred thousand, all types and walks of life are represented, but again, this is something I find very troubling. I don't think there are too many steps between motivating soldiers by inculcating hatred of the other, and bringing them home and using similar techniques to get them to overcome their reluctance to use their training on their fellow citizens ("all liberals are traitors!") if they are needed to quell potential public disturbances here.
posted by psmealey at 8:48 AM on March 13, 2006


So in questioning the position of the Telegraph the implication is that Griffin is an ideologue, and not in earnest when criticising the poor tactical position on the ground?

Not to mirror the rhetoric, but that’s been pretty much the M.O. of this administration.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050825/

I’m not going to argue the ‘get some’ mentality of some folks on the ground. I don’t know Griffin’s experiance. There are people like that. But not everywhere. That said, the attitude certainly seems different. The Marine Corps small wars manual has been posted here several times.
For some reason arguing that the best work is done when you’re not pulling the trigger has become somehow politicised as anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-conservative, etc. etc.

The man knows the tactics that works. Given his experiance, he has seen tactics that work and those that don’t.
The real problem is millitary personnel (in the U.S.) are not being treated as professionals.
If a doctor says someone has a disease or a teacher says a kid has a problem in math, they’re not attacked as right wing nuts or left wing iconoclasts.

Why, when a professional soldier says “But I found that when I was out in Iraq that I couldn't keep my views separate from my work without compromising my role as a soldier” - we don’t weigh his words as professional or look at the evidence that supports or refutes his professional judgement but instead look first at the political ends those views serve.
And that feeds into the whole he said/she said crap where everyone with an opinion feels they have a say. Because if no one is an expert, then everyone is.

This apart from his views, some of which I disagree with, some I agree, others I can’t confirm or deny, and others that seem to be echoed in the press and other sources and seem to be true.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:48 AM on March 13, 2006


Over the past ten or so years, I had thought we had tried to develop a professional, duty-based...fighting man

You can look at the pictures coming out of Abu Ghraib, and be surprised by allegations of racism in the U.S. Armed Forces?
posted by slatternus at 8:53 AM on March 13, 2006


disobey when necessary
Woah. That's really not what they told me when I was in the army. As far as the military is concerned, the altercation in Iraq is lawful and therefore their actions there are not to be disobeyed out of personal belief of the overall reasons for the war.


unless things have changed, you can still be tried for warcrimes even if they were orders. at least in theory, though in practice it seems that is rarely done.
posted by teishu at 8:56 AM on March 13, 2006


It's a fair point, slatternus. For some reason, I tended to consider what happened at Abu Ghraib not indicative of the US Army overall, as I thought of it as the result of a bunch of hillbilly reservists that were in over their heads, and whose actions were not properly overseen, so a Stanford prison experiment type thing resulted. It's certainly possible the attitudes that led to what happened there are much more widespread than any of us knows.
posted by psmealey at 9:00 AM on March 13, 2006


Just as interesting as the other quotes:
One of them was a disabled man who had a leg missing but the Americans still ordered us to load them on the helicopters and bring them back to their base. A few hours later we were told to return half of them and fly back to the farm in daylight. It was a ridiculous order and we ran the risk of being shot down or ambushed, but we still had to do it. The Americans were risking our lives because they refused to listen to our advice the night before. It was typical of their behaviour."
That is quite an allegation (emphasis mine, obviously).

I wish there was more to this interview. It comes off sounding like one man's opinion instead of one man's experience. That (or something anyway) makes it feel a little weak despite the dramatic nature of the claims.
posted by Chuckles at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2006


psmealey: "Over the past ten or so years, I had thought we had tried to develop a professional, duty-based ("you do it for the man next to you" a la Black Hawk Down) fighting man, as opposed to the violent ingenue that needs to demonize or hate the enemy in order to be properly motivated."

I'd really recommend reading On Killing : The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Professor of Military Science at Arkansas State University. He examines the psychological aspects of making people kill other humans very closely and points out what the military has learned from earlier conflicts in which the soldiers were trained with different methods. One modern tactic is creating soldiers that see the enemy as something less than themselves, as mere targets with little or no emotional value. This "de-humanizing" is necessary to overcome natural blocks against murder, and the process is often damaging when it overshoots its goal or becomes applied to the wrong situations; the latter is especially dangerous in Iraq since the soldiers can't easily distinguish between friend (or neutral) and foe. Also, there are no really "safe areas" in which this behaviour could be completely dropped, since the soldiers are never totally out of harm's way, neither en route nor in their camps.
I can really recommend the book, especially since it isn't a rabid peacenik hippie condemnation of all military personnel but rather a scientific, distanced analysis of the burden a standing army brings with it and the associated risks and decisions that must be made. Very interesting reading.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 9:16 AM on March 13, 2006


Interesting post. Thanks.
posted by bardic at 9:19 AM on March 13, 2006


To be fair, psmeasley, the tone does get set from the top. I guess this is what happens when you get a professional military run by a cartel of multi-millionarres with, what...about 18 months of collective military experience between them?
posted by slatternus at 9:36 AM on March 13, 2006


I think that a lot his comments are accurate of the situation over there as a whole. The U.S. forces are isolated on large military bases built by Halliburton that are in no way temporary despite what the administration has stated (four of these bases built so far, at least one of them is so large it needs two bus services to handle personnel transport.)
In addition, the military has typically obtained most of it's recruits from the south and midwest, regions not known for their openness to different ethnicities. So basically what we've got over there are a bunch of lower-class white guys, typically hard core right wing who have a chance to get back at the world that spurned them. Reference the documentaries Gunner Palace and Operation Dreamland and pretty much any film posted on the internet showing the troops in action for some examples of how troops are conducting themselves in Iraq these days as well as their overall attitude towards indigent populations of pretty much any host country worldwide. Back in the late 1940's the military decided that it was going to make part of it's mission integration of all races. It would be a very good idea to extend that outwards towards host or occupied nations. Learn the culture, the customs, the language, show the population that you know and that you give a damn. Demonstrate it through your actions, not invite derision from your thuggery.
posted by mk1gti at 9:48 AM on March 13, 2006


I think it's a real concern, or should be, that when these men and women come home in defeat, confused and angry, they're going to have people like Sean Hannity, Glen Reynolds, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter pouring sweet poison in their ears: "Those faggot-loving, atheist Liberal elites MADE you lose"...
posted by slatternus at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2006


mk1gti - did you mean indigent or indigenous?

Just wondering (genuinely, as both words fit, but the latter seems more appropriate, somehow).
posted by Grangousier at 10:12 AM on March 13, 2006


Thanks for the correction, Grangousier, I meant indigenous
posted by mk1gti at 10:26 AM on March 13, 2006


One of the main problems with Griffin's complaint is that he is a member of the special forces giving criticism to normal military units - the training that any special forces unit receives is so utterly beyond that of a basic infantryman that it's no wonder he doesn't see eye to eye with them. I don't disagree with his opinion at all; in fact I'm not even remotely surprised as this is hardly the first time US troops have come under (verbal) fire from the British military for their gung ho attitude.

It's the difference between US Special Forces working with Montagnard CIDG units in Vietnam and the grunts who were stuck in fire bases with very little exposure to local people (other then aggressive patrolling - hardly the best way to influence people into liking you).
posted by longbaugh at 11:16 AM on March 13, 2006


This is why our founding fathers feared a Standing Army and never wanted one!
posted by Megafly at 12:29 PM on March 13, 2006


I’d have to second longbaugh’s comment.
I think that makes the contrast a bit sharper, but the Brits - historically - have had a much more professional officer and NCO corps than the Yanks.

I take exception to the ‘good ole boy’ digs at the military. Certainly there are those, but for the most part training and discipline drains all of that on the job. Particularly in infantry units. So if there are problems like we have been seeing, they are more systemic than anything to do with the quality of manpower. One can make a man hard enough to run through a brick wall whether mommy coddled him or not.
What you can’t do is account for how that discipline is used. There is nothing more damaging to a unit than having an unclear purpose, undefined goals, etc.
Right wing/left wing doesn’t really enter into it (except, currently, from the top). So I’d echo slatternus’ concerns about when the men come home. Roles in the American Legion and the VFW are down. Vets have to help vets. Otherwise there is indeed ample opportunity for exploitation.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:58 PM on March 13, 2006


Does this mean we can finally put an end to the "it's what happens when you put soldiers in the role of police" explanation/excuse? Foreign soldiers are baffled/disgusted.
posted by dreamsign at 1:36 PM on March 13, 2006


I don’t think it invalidates it dreamsign. I think that debate is more about the military model. Soliders have been used as police since the revolutionary war. Notice that they aren’t used like that anymore? It’s a question of training. Not an excuse for abuses, but prevention. Soldiers, in addition to whatever their MOS (job) is, get advanced infantry training and perhaps training on military operations on urban terrain. This is not a substitute for learning how to deal with civilians as a peacekeeper. Most particularly if there aren’t clear orders in place and if leadership is weak.
I’d add that the reverse is true when it comes to training. Using someone as expertly trained and specialized as Griffin for something like crowd control would be a waste of resources.

The argument is not that it cannot be done, but that it is being executed in the wrong way.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:57 PM on March 13, 2006


Soliders have been used as police since the revolutionary war. ... It’s a question of training.

Indeed. This has been one of the chief differences between the British and American troops' methods since the invasion.

The British began training troops in Arabic before the war began. Their army's policing methods are well honed after years of policing civilians in Northern Ireland.

"There is a suspicion that the Americans are too aggressive, too confrontational.
"They always wear helmets and big sunglasses; the British try to wear berets wherever they can and appear to be more friendly."


The SAS, while never involved in a policing role per se, has an even more detailed history of interacting with civilians, learning languages, immersing themselves in a culture. In Ghost Force: The Secret History of the SAS Connor describes how the winning of 'hearts and minds' was by far the most powerful weapon in the SAS's arsenal -- to the extent that, in Aden, they would arrange for military veterinarians to treat villagers' livestock.

Basra may be easier to police than Baghdad and not that there haven't been problems on the British end of things. But these have generally been dealt with sternly and with accountability -- I can only sympathise with Griffin's views.
posted by NailsTheCat at 4:57 PM on March 13, 2006


in Aden, they would arrange for military veterinarians to treat villagers' livestock.

There is a Frontline about US military hospitals at the time of the invasion.. It is astonishing to contemplate how much opening the hospitals to serve at maximum capacity would have improved the situation. Instead they send field hospitals home because 'they weren't needed'..
posted by Chuckles at 5:18 PM on March 13, 2006


My dad told me the old WWII joke when I was very young. Except he said it wasn't a joke.

"When the German planes flew over, the Brits ducked. When the British planes flew over, the Germans ducked. When the Americans flew over, everybody ducked."

Plus ca change...
posted by Decani at 5:40 PM on March 13, 2006


Smedleyman
I don't want you to think this is 'good ole boy' digs at the military, it's not that at all.
What I am digging at is not providing troops with enough resources to do their job, enough training to allow the troops to win the local population over to their side on their mission.
Whether people want to admit it or not, there is more opportunity for advancement in the coastal areas of the U.S. rather than in the central U.S. and in the south. In the south especially people work low-wage jobs with little opportunity for advancement or proper schooling. That's a sad and simple fact. With education comes opportunity, and until this country's government in D.C. acknowledges that fact we will have a populace that is poorly educated and poorly informed as to how to get out of the deeply negative situation it's in.
In a better time the military would be able to 'man up' according to an equal distribution all over the country. That's one of the reasons I think, and have thought for a very long time that a mandatory draft, regardless of wartime state, would be a good idea in the U.S. Let the civilian populace know what it is to 'walk in another man's shoes'. Let them know what is implied when a country commits itself to war. Let them know really and truly what costs are implied when it lies it's men and women's lives on the line in wartime. I think if that were the case, this country would find it very, very difficult to go to war for the cause of 'big oil' as it is doing now. There is no 'Al Queda' cause here. This is all about multinational corporations 'bottom line', just as it was with Smedley Butler in the turn of the century. He knew what the score was, whether anyone in the U.S. wants to face up to that fact, they soon will be forced to. It's a hard pill to swallow, but whether we agree to swallow it or it's forced down our throats, it will be swallowed eventually. I'll take mine with a bit of olive oil, thank you...
The bottom line is this: I want our troops to win. I want them to return safely home in one piece, with minimal if any damage. Strutting around like cock's of the walk in a country where both North and South Vietnam hate the occupier's guts isn't going to do it. This country needs to start training it's frontline troops just as if they were Special Forces or SAS: Win hearts and minds, don't stomp all over'em.
posted by mk1gti at 6:38 PM on March 13, 2006


There is a Frontline about US military hospitals at the time of the invasion.. It is astonishing to contemplate how much opening the hospitals to serve at maximum capacity would have improved the situation. Instead they send field hospitals home because 'they weren't needed'..
--------------------------------
And this is a very good example of why the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq. I remember this time, not from a documentary but from news stories and reading of troops on the ground and military doctors on the ground during that time. They saw it as an opportunity to do a good deed, to take care of the population and win them over to our side, but the higher ups blew it. They blew it so badly they should have resigned and still should resign based on their foolish and stupid decisions. Why is Rumsfeld even allowed anywhere near D.C. these days? What an absolute and inarguable ass and anyone who sympathizes with him. Why isn't he in Gitmo or Abu Ghuraib? The man is an affront to humanity and civilization.
posted by mk1gti at 6:45 PM on March 13, 2006


I thought of it as the result of a bunch of hillbilly reservists that were in over their heads, and whose actions were not properly overseen, so a Stanford prison experiment type thing resulted.

Why did you think this? Because this is what right wing pundits claimed? Those of us who know that soldiering is largely a matter of "covering your ass" find that explaination to be quite unbelievable. The real criminals of Abu Ghraib are still walking around, and will probably never be charged.
posted by telstar at 9:13 AM on March 14, 2006


mk1gti - reasonable points.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:01 AM on March 14, 2006


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