Apr 2007

No! Not the comfy chair!

Just over a week ago, fifteen British service personnel were captured by the Iranian navy. Iran claims the British soldiers were half a kilometre inside Iranian territory and — according to the recording function on their GPS navigation — had regularly entered Iranian waters as part of their patrols. The captured soldiers confirm this version of events. Of course, the British response is “you’re fooling nobody, Mahmoud”. The troops were in Iraqi waters, goes the British argument, and are now being fed scripted lines to speak on-camera by the dastardly Iranians!

Clearly there’s only a handful of people who know the truth, and neither you nor I, dear reader, will ever be among them. Long after these troops are released (as certainly they will be) the UK will claim they did nothing wrong and Iran will claim they illegally entered their territory. So that particular fact is unlikely to ever be resolved. Mind you, it’s worth pointing out that as far as Iran is concerned, US/UK troops in Iraqi territory constitute an illegal army of occupation. Nonetheless, the incident has highlighted some intriguing differences in the manner in which Iran has treated these soldiers and how the US/UK coalition treats captured “enemy combatants”.

There are those who will dismiss the comparison. We’re not at war with Iran, they’ll point out, so British troops aren’t “enemy combatants” as far as Iran should be concerned. Which would be a good point if it wasn’t such bullshit. Under Tony Blair, the British military has been transformed into an extension of U.S. foreign policy. And it’s not just any U.S. administration we’re talking about. It’s the regime of George W. Bush; a man who announced that Iran was part of an axis of evil and then bombed the hell out of its neighbours to the east (Afghanistan) and to the west (Iraq). According to one estimate, between 2 and 3 percent of the Iraqi population has died violently since the US/UK launched their invasion.

If China openly announced that it considered the UK to be “evil” and then launched massive bombing campaigns and invasions of France and Ireland, followed up by routine patrols right along the edge of British waters while all the time urging the rest of the world to impose crippling sanctions against Britain as response to their nuclear programme; then I submit to you that any captured Chinese military personnel would be treated as ‘the enemy’.

I also submit to you, based upon the recent track-record of Britain and the United States, that the captured Chinese would receive far worse treatment than the British soldiers have so far received in Iran.

We do not, of course, know how the British personnel have been treated while the cameras have been turned off. We don’t know whether they’ve been stripped naked except for the bags over their heads and then forced to simulate sex with one another. We don’t know whether they’ve had to huddle naked in the corner of a tiny cell while Iranian soldiers held massive snarling dogs just inches away. We don’t know whether they’ve had electric wires held to their genitals or were piled high so that Iranian guards could laugh at them and take souvenir snaps.

Conversely, I suppose you could argue that we only saw the worst of Abu Ghraib. We didn’t see the detainees sitting around in comfy chairs, sharing a cigarette and a joke, before being fed good meals and asked nicely to apologise for whatever wrongs they were accused of. I wonder why.

Iran has thus far resisted the temptation to make the captured soldiers “disappear” into a shadowy system of unofficial prisons and rendition flights. They haven’t dumped them into an illegal and immoral prison camp in Cuba to rot without representation. They haven’t decided to hold them for years without charge.

Incidentally, did anyone else notice this report from a couple of weeks ago… Escape from UK-run prison in Iraq…? There’s a line in the report, about halfway in, that completely overshadows the relatively mundane story in the headline… A security source told the agency that the prisoners had been held without charge for the past two years. It seems that Britain’s reluctance to criticise Guantanamo Bay too loudly is now explained… the British government is running one or more similar institutions itself. And why is it that we only hear about Britain locking people up for years without charge when the prisoners stage an escape?

If Iran treated these prisoners the way Britain and America treat enemy prisoners, we wouldn’t have heard about them once they’d been captured. They’d have disappeared into some anonymous camp to be degraded, terrorised and tortured. Within a couple of years, some of them may have been driven to suicide. An act that the Iranians would describe as “a good PR move“.

Posted in: Opinion