We need an inquiry into the Iranian captives fiasco - Comment, by Michael Hesltine

Michael Heseltine , deplore his EU attitudes as I do, speaks here for Britain. But where is the wimp Cameron while all this goes on? Note that since he penned this it seems that Blair knew, the minister knew, the Chief of the General Staff knew, the 2nd secretary at the MoD knew and the chiefs of the Navy knew. We must demand an Inquiry. Christina Speight. *** AND I’ve just learned that John Howard, prime minister of Australia, has announced that Australia is going to send another 1000 troops to Afghanistan. Our men are bravely fighting and dying there unsupported by any country of size in the EU but when the chips are down it’s always the Ozzies that turn up trumps. =========================== Daily-Mail OnLine 10/4/07 Heseltine: 'Humiliating and inept, and only one man is to blame' By MICHAEL HESELTINE – The affair of the Iranian abductions has brought humiliation to Britain and heaped embarrassment on the Ministry of Defence. Our armed forces, renowned throughout the world for their traditions of selfless loyalty and discipline under fire, have been plunged into crisis for which the only person who seems to be responsible is an anonymous spokesman for the Ministry of Defence. As a former Defence Secretary, I feel nothing but despair over an episode that could permanently damage the morale of our services. Defence secretary Des Browne is responsible for the UK's humiliation At every step of the saga, the political and military leaders have looked inept, from failing to protect properly the Royal Navy boarding party in the first place to sanctioning the sale of the captives' stories. It almost defies belief that serving personnel think that they should be allowed to sell their tales for five and six-figure sums while retaining their jobs. The whole business has undermined the concepts of restraint, solidarity, fortitude and self-sacrifice on which the effectiveness of the military depends. It is too late for Defence Secretary Des Browne to close the stable door as he did yesterday by announcing that all military personnel are now banned from telling their stories until a review of the rules has been completed. The damage has been done. Throughout my career, I have had huge admiration for the armed services, heightened by my spell at the Ministry of Defence. Without them, our liberty would be at risk. Through their resolution, with our Nato allies we emerged victorious from the Cold War, achieving the end of Soviet tyranny. During the past three decades, they have helped bring peace to Northern Ireland, rid the Falkland Islanders of foreign occupation, ended ethnic conflict in the Balkans, upheld democracy in Sierra Leone and conducted a host of humanitarian missions throughout the Third World. In the past we have always been - quite rightly - proud of our armed forces. But the Iranian farce marks a low point. Everyone, from the Government down, is tainted by its outcome, which has been a propaganda disaster for us across the world. For years the Blair administration, despite being one of the most bellicose of modern times, has neglected the upkeep of the military. Frontline units have been starved of resources and personnel, condemning them to severe overstretching, often inadequate equipment and even poor housing when returning to home duties. And Gordon Brown has shown nothing like the same enthusiasm for funding the military as he has for pouring money into State bureaucracy and his vast welfare schemes. That indifference towards effective provision seems to have played its part in the Iranian affair, since the Royal Navy's exercise appears to have been conducted without proper equipment or support, making it easy for Tehran's Revolutionary Guards to seize the unit without a fight. Good communications, armament and helicopter back-up all seem to have been lacking, even though the Iranians had made it obvious that they were looking for a chance to interfere. It is all too depressingly possible that someone in the Ministry of Defence has agreed that the soldiers and sailors talk to the media in order to distract attention from its own appalling errors. We are told that by agreeing to allow Press interviews the Ministry kept some degree of control. Really! Why did they need it? What were they fearful the hostages might say? Yesterday, the Defence Secretary, Des Browne, said, in handwringing tones, that he sympathised with the Royal Navy over its dilemma. What 'dilemma' did he precisely have in mind? It is his rules that were over-ridden. Was he not consulted before someone decided to overturn the Government's long-standing policy? And if he was not consulted, who took the decision to act without his consent? Any confusion is entirely his responsibility. There was no complex policy decision to be made. All the Ministry of Defence needed to do was enforce the policy that has stood for decades, banning serving personnel from giving revelations to the media, which Mr Browne now says he is doing - but after some of the Iranian hostages had already sold their stories. When I was Defence Secretary I fought a long, controversial battle in Parliament and the courts on the case of Clive Ponting, a civil servant who was accused of leaking secrets about the sinking of the Argentine ship the General Belgrano during the Falklands War. Though Ponting was acquitted, I believed an important principle was at stake, that operational effectiveness cannot exist where a climate of trust has broken down. And the Ministry of Defence has been playing an extremely dangerous game. For in the public relations war, the Iranians are parading more pictures of the detainees apparently being well-looked after, enjoying large meals, laughing with one another and playing games of table-tennis. More importantly, with this tactic, they are undermining the morale of the armed services, already buffeted by the increasingly unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their deliberate promotion of a celebrity circus is bound to cause deep resentment to other personnel who are risking their lives every day but stand to gain nothing from the service of their country, even though their daily experiences may be far harsher and more lifethreatening than anything endured by the Iranian captives. The relatives of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan must also be feeling bitter. All they have received from the Ministry of Defence is a letter of condolence. There is no question of huge compensation, bloated payouts and media attention. Yet, simply by selling their stories, some of the hostages stand to have made five or six times the money that an average private earns. And if any of them happen to be a woman, it seems that they can really hit the jackpot, gaining life-changing sums. That hardly does much for the case of equality in the armed forces. Given the extent of this mess, we must have a public inquiry into what has happened. Such an inquiry would have to examine three fundamental issues. First, it should look into the exact circumstances of the detention of the Royal Navy party, studying in particular the alleged lack of support from the nearby task force headed by HMS Cornwall. We need to know why the raiding party was so pitifully armed and seemed to have no cover from any helicopter. We also need to find out what actually occurred in Iran, beyond the empty propaganda of the Tehran regime and the stories of the detainees. Second, we have to find out who actually took the decision to allow the personnel to sell their stories. At what level was it made in the MoD? Was the Defence Secretary consulted, or indeed the Prime Minister? What was the reasoning behind this radical departure from official policy? Was the chief of the defence staff consulted and did he seek the views of his colleagues in the Army, which in the way of things comes into a much more personal relationship with our enemies and the threat they pose? Third, any inquiry must address the damage done to the armed forces' prestige and morale. By all accounts, anger is now running high in the rest of the military, and the families of those lost in recent conflicts are bound to feel betrayed. The ghastly mistakes of the past few days cannot be undone. But at the very least lessons could be learned to stop anything like this happening again. None of us should underestimate the debt we owe to the men and women who put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy this way of life which we too easily take for granted.


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