Selling Stories - interesting piece from Iraq PoW...

#1
From today's Observer. While I haven't been a great fan of John Nichol in the past, he makes some extremely valid points here...

told my story as an Iraqi PoW - because the generals liked Wogan

John Nichol
Sunday April 15, 2007

Observer

There was much anguish and gnashing of teeth in the Ministry of Defence last week over the furore of service personnel selling their stories to the media. Commentators, former officers and politicians have been elbowing each other out of the way in an unseemly rush to appear in the media decrying the way the navy has handled the issue.
I am stunned at the rank hypocrisy of retired senior officers, all of whom have sold their memoirs, being paid hefty sums by the media to criticise with such venom the young sailors and marines receiving payment for their stories. And in a truly delicious piece of irony, we now have Tony Blair coming out of hiding to decree that it was a mistake to allow the Iran prisoners to profit from their ordeal - this from a man who will soon be paid millions of pounds to recount his own, less glamorous, part in the Iraq conflict. A quick browse through history would have revealed it has all happened before.

At the end of the Gulf war in 1991 I returned to the arms of my loved ones after a brief period as a prisoner of war in Iraq. Images of we PoWs had been flashed across the globe and speculation about our treatment and Iraqi 'interrogation techniques' was rife. I - and those around me - were caught in the glare of a truly intense media spotlight. My family home was surrounded by a pack of journalists and the telephone rang constantly with requests for my story. But the MoD had made it absolutely clear that returning PoWs were never to speak about their experiences. Although there had been much incorrect, and somewhat annoying, speculation about our ordeal, as a serving officer silence suited me fine.

Then someone changed their mind. Out of the hundreds of requests for interviews, one caught the eye of an MoD official. The grand inquisitor himself, Terry Wogan, had asked if I, and my pilot, would appear on his live nightly BBC1 show which was then pulling in many millions of viewers. The MoD told us it was our choice but we had their blessing if we wanted to attend. The one condition imposed was that we did not speak of our experiences after the moment we were captured. So two excited but very naive young officers found themselves on Terry's sofa, in full dress uniform, in front of a studio audience and a very live nation. Needless to say, one of Mr W's first questions was about what had caused our bruised and battered faces to appear on international TV - we stumbled and bumbled explaining we were not allowed to talk about 'such sensitive matters' and, to his credit, he dropped the subject and chatted about more mundane aspects of life in the RAF. Being honest, it was a jolly enjoyable experience and, as far as I was concerned, an end to my media career.

Then someone changed their mind. Over in America it had been decided that their PoWs would tell the full story and gory details of beatings, torture and mock executions began to emerge. I was again besieged by the press pack demanding to know if I had undergone the same treatment. I made desperate phone calls to the MoD to seek guidance. I was told in no uncertain terms to keep my mouth firmly shut. Which I duly did.

Then someone changed their mind. Weeks later, back on my RAF base, my squadron boss called me into his office. He'd received a signal (official communication) to the effect that 'ministers have decreed that former PoWs will attend a mass press conference and relate their experiences'. I was aghast at the prospect of relating my ordeal in such a way - it had been difficult enough to talk to loved ones about the torture and degradation. I was told in no uncertain terms that the press conference would go ahead.

Then someone changed their mind. A few days later, the fact that we were being ordered, against our will, to tell the story was now leaked to the media and banner headlines attacked the MoD's decision. The word came back that apparently it had never been the intention to force us to speak and that the idea of an open press conference had been shelved. The story could now die quietly.

But it didn't. Months on and details of our ordeal were still appearing in the press, so my pilot and I asked for permission to write a book. The MoD gave their blessing to the project although we had to submit the manuscript for censoring (interestingly, we were ordered not to reveal that the book had been checked by MoD censors). The publisher paid us for Tornado Down, which came out in 1992 while we were still serving officers, and we were given official leave to promote it. The book went on to be a 'number one bestseller' and, curiously, bearing in mind the current furore over the Iran prisoners, there was not one single murmur of complaint from the media, retired officers, or any politician. Strange how things change.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
Strange how things change indeed...
 
#2
He certainly makes it appear that we've been here before.

But the changings-of-mind in Whitehall do seem to have been much more obvious - and more publicly muddled - recently, compared with GW1.

Or is it just that we forget?
 
#3
I think the main difference is that those who went before had (in the main) a story to tell.

£80,000 for smoking tabs while enduring being stripped to your knickers is hardly Warlord Peter Flint stuff is it.

I'd say the gaoler who had to deal with young Faye's knickers is probably more mentally scarred than any of the 15.
 
#5
spiffy said:
The pilots were tortured, the sailor had his iPod nicked...spot the difference.
Agreed - although like Adjutant I have some misgivings about his new-found career as a Military Expert.
 
#6
I was in a similar situation (Hong Kong border patrol) during the riots in May 1968, 20 of us snatched by the Chinese Liberation Army at Lo Wu and put in the bag for 2 weeks. and detained in Shenzhen China.

The patrol was mixed Brits/Gurkha/Chinese to included 2 junior officers, average age was 23 - 25, all from Sek Kong Camp.

Only NO/RNK/NAME was given despite interrogation and solitary confinement. When released and returned back to Hong Kong...the media was kept well away by a stiff boot from the RSM

In this situation blame the MOD and Government, they put these two inexperienced people in the crap.

The sun has now set on the empire and our forces are now controlled by baffons and coffee house fops!
 
#8
In seven weeks with the enemy John Nichol underwent torture and ill treatment, often blindfolded and kept alone for days on end, but there were moments of kindness and humanity too.
Of course it had; it satisfied my sense of personal pride not to have given in without a fight. But still the feelings of guilt and shame were enormous, I felt like a total failure. Not only had I failed in my mission, I'd been shot down, captured and broken under interrogation. To compound it all I was about to be paraded on the world's TV screens so that everyone would know what a failure I really was.
John Nichol
 
#9
Interesting stuff. I think a large part of it, without being too parochial, is to do with the three separate services. The Army in general are clear what their role is and have, since WW2 onwards, born the brunt of casualties, danger etc. We perhaps are more mentally prepared for it; as an Infantry soldier it is obvious what your job may entail. When it comes around you may be shocked by it, but don't let on as the expectation is that you should hack it.

The RAF and Navy haven't faced the same as the Army. The odd blue job is shot down or crashes and it is big news, the Navy sit out in the middle of the sea bothering Columbians in speed boats or winging TLAMs at the most recent enemy but generally don't get to see the whites of their socks. The Army take casualties; correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the only year since WW2 that soldiers haven't died on ops is 1969. When I joined the talk was of NI; every Bn had lost people there. Then the Balkans came along. Not too grim, but RWF were taken hostage and the bodies were at times piled high. GW 1 was a blip, NI rumbled on, Sierra Leone (more on that in a bit), then it went mental post 9/11. So, the Army is habituated to deaths, injury and the odd other drama (hostages etc).

On the Sierra Leone/ R IRISH do. That was horrible; if it was up to me to spend time with the Westside Mentalists of the Iranians I know who I'd opt for. They had a grim time and people had to get killed to get them out. And they then cracked on with careers in anonymity after a harrowing and also truly newsworthy episode.

Something happens to the Navy and to them its big stuff. Then this rubbish all happens. The head of Service MUST shoulder some blame. But equally, what experience of this sort of thing does he have? Contrast with good old CGS stating that in the Army it'll never happen. It shows you just how emasculated the other services are in comparison with us. Now if only they could sack some Euro Fighter and Aircraft Carriers and get us some decent boots…
 
#10
From Queens Regulations.
Annex A(J) to Chapter 12 and J12.022

Broadcasts by serving personnel acting as official spokesmen and speeches and lectures on official subjects will normally be undertaken as part of their official duty and, as such, covered by their Service pay; no question of extra payment to individuals will therefore arise. If, however, all or part of the preparatory work and delivery of the broadcast, speech or lecture is done during the individual's off duty time he may retain the whole or part of any fees payable, as appropriate. This provision also governs the retention of any fees payable for the writing of books or articles on official matters or involving material or experience. Details of any payments should be sent to the appropriate Public Relations or Publication Clearance authority (see Annex A to this Chapter) to consider what proportion should be credited to public funds.
 
#12
CRmeansCeilingReached said:
spiffy said:
The pilots were tortured, the sailor had his iPod nicked...spot the difference.
and which one cried himself to sleep?
Dont be too harsh they called him names as well 'The little Weasel'

My 7 year old would of cried if called Mr Bean and had his IPOD confistcated.
 
#14
BedIn said:
Interesting stuff. I think a large part of it, without being too parochial, is to do with the three separate services. The Army in general are clear what their role is and have, since WW2 onwards, born the brunt of casualties, danger etc. We perhaps are more mentally prepared for it; as an Infantry soldier it is obvious what your job may entail. When it comes around you may be shocked by it, but don't let on as the expectation is that you should hack it.

The RAF and Navy haven't faced the same as the Army. The odd blue job is shot down or crashes and it is big news, the Navy sit out in the middle of the sea bothering Columbians in speed boats or winging TLAMs at the most recent enemy but generally don't get to see the whites of their socks. The Army take casualties; correct me if I'm wrong but I believe the only year since WW2 that soldiers haven't died on ops is 1969. When I joined the talk was of NI; every Bn had lost people there. Then the Balkans came along. Not too grim, but RWF were taken hostage and the bodies were at times piled high. GW 1 was a blip, NI rumbled on, Sierra Leone (more on that in a bit), then it went mental post 9/11. So, the Army is habituated to deaths, injury and the odd other drama (hostages etc).

On the Sierra Leone/ R IRISH do. That was horrible; if it was up to me to spend time with the Westside Mentalists of the Iranians I know who I'd opt for. They had a grim time and people had to get killed to get them out. And they then cracked on with careers in anonymity after a harrowing and also truly newsworthy episode.

Something happens to the Navy and to them its big stuff. Then this rubbish all happens. The head of Service MUST shoulder some blame. But equally, what experience of this sort of thing does he have? Contrast with good old CGS stating that in the Army it'll never happen. It shows you just how emasculated the other services are in comparison with us. Now if only they could sack some Euro Fighter and Aircraft Carriers and get us some decent boots…
Bedin, I can see sort of where you are coming from but you are fogretting a teeny weeny point. Which branch of the Navy wears green berets, have been involved in virtually all major conflicts and have just completed a successful tour of the stan. (And regretfully have lost pers of their own)
 
#15
Roger - and the Marines didn't sell their stories. And the decision to sell the stories was up there with the First Sea Lord - a matelot.
 

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