Should we welcome investigations?

Discussion in 'Officers' started by barbs, Sep 26, 2005.

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  1. Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I have seen and read a lot of comment (mostly appallingly badly informed comment) regarding investigations into actions that have resulted in deaths on operations. I do not wish to reignite the flames regarding particular cases that have passed or are in the throes of investigation and judgment (please resist the urge...). I have sought to post this in the Officer forum because I think it is best placed for the audience to participate sensibly.

    My opinion about SIB investigations, in particular, is that they can offer soldiers and officers a means of validating our activities. Why?

    A soldier in contact fires within the rules of engagement resulting in the death of a third party. This is investigated by the RMP who decide that there is no case to answer. This will provide the soldier with increased confidence in the chain of command, the rules of engagement and the process. A corresponding increase in morale will be evident.

    A soldier in contact fires outside the rules of engagement resulting in the death of a third party. This is investigated by the RMP who decide that there is no case to answer - the shot was outside the rules of engagement but the prevailing operational circumstances necessitated the situation (-i.e., it was morally or ethically correct to shoot). This will provide the soldier with increased confidence in the chain of command, the rules of engagement and the process. A corresponding increase in morale will be evident.

    A soldier deliberately fires outside the rules of engagement resulting in the death of a third party. This is investigated by the RMP who decide that there is a case to answer - the shot was outside the rules of engagement but the prevailing operational circumstances did not warrant the shot or the death (-i.e., it was not morally or ethically correct to shoot). This will result in a criminal case of one sort or another (preferably within the military justice system) and the soldier punished.

    All three scenarios will allow for the Army as a whole or the unit to learn from the mistakes and actions of previous soldiers, thereby increasing their confidence and trust. The operational effectiveness of the Army is enhanced.

    The Army must be robust in ensuring that justice is done and that justice is seen to be done. Investigations must be swift and secure. We must protect ourselves from the opportunist who seeks to make political capital from our mistakes and accusations of cover up. I say this in the context of Army shootings from the early and late 20th Century being brought back to bite us: Amritsar and Bloody Sunday, where investigations were conducted internally and no obvious action was taken.

    On operations our soldiers face amazingly difficult circumstances and it is our responsibility to them that they do not have to face their actions being re-examined ad nauseam 30 years later.

    Your thoughts, please...
  2. napier

    napier LE Moderator Reviewer

    Its very easy to have 20:20 visibility of events after the fact. One man's war crime is another man's (or woman's) split second decision. When the monkeys start sniffing around previous contacts, fighting soldiers should get very nervous.
  3. I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me as a UK civvie, but I would like to add that looking at it from the outside, part of the respect for our armed forces is that serious criminal behaviour is not seen to be tolerated. If the army is seen to be 'keeping a tight ship' then the public are happy to leave the army to sort its own house with the minimum of interference. If it is believed that the army is allowing serious criminal behaviour to become commonplace, there will be calls for independent investigations, public enquiries or even civilian police to do the job. All of which I suspect, would lead to huge morale and operational problems. Secrecy surrounding certain areas of the UK armed forces operations and units is tolerated by the public because enough people understand the reason for it and because it is believed that the secrecy isn't a shroud for criminality. If the army wishes to keep the operationally required “no comment” and be given the benefit of the doubt when situations arise, it MUST continually show to the public that incidents will be investigated and where required, prosecution(s) brought.
    The one suggestion I would have is that the Army needs to improve its media relations as it is the media which shape much of the publics’ perception of the army. It will be the media who will be the first to jump on any incident and has also during the last few years made claims against soldiers which it had good reason to believe were false. They will continue to do so if they feel they can get away with it and it will make them some money. Proper investigations which bring the facts to light are the best way to combat this.

    My twopenneth.
  4. Oh, I agree (congrats on becoming a mod, by the way).

    I would rather argue the case in the immediate aftermath of an incident than 25 years later...

    I am very nervous of people checking back and discovering that an investigation hasn't been conducted... my experience of SIB investigations of shootings (mostly baton rounds, admittedy)has been good: taking 'defensive' statements in the 24 hrs following an incident rather than waiting for a complaint, for example.

    Do you not think we should embrace the scrutiny rather than sweep it under the carpet and then await the problems as they arise further down the path?
  5. Barbs

    I thoroughly agree that we must keep our house in order. Where we have gone wrong we must investigate and act against those who have clearly broken the law and not lived up to the standards required. My only problem is that I'm not sure just how easy it is to define the precise legal position for much of the time, nor to see where the clear standards applicable to UK leafy suburbs fits in a post-war Basra.

    The problem is that you can have exactly the situation that you outlined (incident, investigation by RMP, legal advice, decision not to prosecute) but the decision taken not to prosecute can then be questioned by the head of the Army Legal Services who then sends it to the Attorney General, who starts another investigation and takes the soldier to the High Court. Fortunately in the case where this has happened the judge threw it out, siding totally with the soldier, his CO and the chain of command. Did this case (PM me if you haven't worked out which it is - and it is done and dusted so can be discussed) increase confidence? I don't think so. The soldier himself went through 7 rings of hell waiting for ages to be taken to the High Court. The wider view? We probably all thought that the CO dismissing the case was a bar to jurisdiction (lesson 1, day 1 of the Army's G1 legal course) - but it isn't. The Attorney General can delve in if he feels like it. So which CO would now decide to dismiss? Best send it to DCM just in case? Average waiting time for a D or GCM? Years of mental torture and irreparable damage to career, personal life etc.

    Second issue - separation of politics from legal cases? See the Public Interest Lawyers website for info. We, the soldiers acting under orders from Phoney Tony, are in the direct firing line from these lawyers who are "ambulance" chasing all over Basra.

    If you are disheartened by the current cases then just wait - you ain't seen nothing yet. Dodgy wars get us individually into dodgy situations - both in theatre and when we get home. Don't wait for the politicians (who have no experience of it and simply cannot empathise, sympathise or understand) to save us. Remember that these are people who say anything for popularity (Remember that Phoney claims he saw "wor Jackie" play at Newcastle before he himself was born and stowed away to the Caribbean once - all lies - and unnecessary ones - sign of a serious personality disorder!).
  6. Many of us feel that if we had some representative body which could take libel action against the newspapers, that this is probably the only way to stop them doing what they do at present. The only way to hurt these people is in their pockets.

    My understanding was that under these circumstances the evidence would have to be passed higher up, and a beyond reasonable doubt decision as to the legality or moral correctness of taking the shot would rest with a court. Moreover, whatever the decision of the court, the injured party can still sue for compensation.

    Am I right in thinking that individual soldiers can be sued? What about vicarious liability? Does this not apply if the soldier has been proven to have committed a criminal offence (ie by braking RoE), or to have somehow contradicted one of the myriad rules or guidances issued to soldiers?

    [edited for crap speeling and punctuation!]
  7. Bits,

    You are right, excuse me, the Army Prosecuting Authority decides who should be tried based on the evidence presented by the RMP. The RMP do not decide who is prosecuted.

    I would however think that all the worst case scenarios (suing/compensation etc) would be far worse if it turned out that the Army had not investigated the incident - in which case the soldier would be left adrift in the face of that criticism.

    Von Ryan,

    Following the case that you described the APA have been forced to review the way in which they conduct business. Hearteningly the Judges appear to place a great deal of store in the over-riding operational situation.

    In all this I am convinced we can learn from our mistakes (and the mistakes have been in the process and not the fault of the accused). If we get the process cleaned up haven't we then got a watertight mechanism to protect the soldiers and ensure that the Army can facedown the scrutineers.

    The ambulance chasers will keep on at us until our process is watertight. What have we to fear if we can demonstrate that we have trained our soldiers to the correct standard, they have acted in the correct manner and we have scrutinised the training and incident?

    If we continue to fail to train our soldiers and fail to supervise them then more and more 'abuse' cases will fall out of the closet.
  8. napier

    napier LE Moderator Reviewer

    I was not suggesting that events should not be investigated, and I concur that a quick precautionary internal investigation should take place (when circumstances permit). But having been on the periphery of one RMP (SIB) investigation in particular, I have little faith in their methods, motives and ability.

    Awaits incoming monkeys...

    (edit) Barbs - thanks for congrats.
  9. Someone has just corrected impression that SIB bring charges. Thanks.
    I was IC SIB in NI 70-72 and we had exactly this problem ref investigate or not investigate. Locals would go to CDC or equal, make allegations, these passed around before getting to Army and unit long since deployed back to BAOR or wherever. This particularly a problem ref the Falls Rd 'Curfew'.
    I introduced a protocol where we would deploy immediately upon a 'Contact' report where fire was returned. We took detailed statements and undertook such scene of crime work as was possible. The results of our actions were with the Bn and 39/NI ops room that same night. The Judges Rules (PACE of that time) were NOT observed. If need be (it never was) a soldier would have been ordered to make his statement. We amplified contact etc. reports. Copies of the statements - with soldiers' names redacted - were passed to local RUC. Decision to prosecute was with them through the normal channels. The statements we took could not be used in this process. We would re-interview soldier if asked by RUC and these statements took notice of Judges Rules. This overcame situation where media would get three or four explanations from a unit or where a CO would stand there and say, 'My soldiers were perfectly justified when they...' allowing terrorists to gather alternative stories. This system worked very well. There was a quick response to any allegations, any weakness in sop was identified and RUC had facts in very short order. At coroners inquests the investigator read the statement he had taken and the soldier was not identified. The Protocol for doing this was agreed with GOC and Head of RUC. It could work now - but - I'm retired and today's bosses know not what was done in those times.
  10. OldRedCap - We are surely supposed to learn from history, but often the detailed procedures adapted for working in a very specific environment are forgotten once that environment no longer exists and the soldiers who served in it have left. A couple of well-aimed letters from your good self at the right targets might produce some results, and from the sounds of it could be exactly the sort of stimulus for review that is desperately required.
  11. Hah. Did that. Got a reply from a half-colonel who was behind bike sheds at Eton at the time we were doing it in NI. Blah Blah. We know best. What we do is the best way. Just a few weeks later, the military guys in House of Lords made their comments re investigations. I actually wrote an e-mail but could not be arsed to send it to someone who knew 'so much'
    Beauty of the 70s system was that the troops on the ground trusted us and we got superb support from them. I understand that this is not always the case with current procedure.
  12. I'm sorry you got fobbed off, and it annoys me because I learnt under the old fashioned school of some very old bold and experienced SNCOs.

    I can only beg that you send it again, and don't give up writing. That snotty nosed SO1 might not give much for your opinion, but out there somewhere there will be a Peer in the Lords or a CO (not necessarily RMP) who will be grateful for the input and make sure it is flagged up for attention.
  13. If I may, speaking as another civilian, I am voting yes to the initial question but have reservations:

    1. is it going to satisfy today's public demand for greater transparency and accountability of the service and
    2. are the investigation findings going to be used to improve the service in a manner keeping with that service?

    Excellent topic Barbs.

  14. Barbs et al,

    I still worry about the way in which these cases are viewed from the safety of the UK. There are many who believe that the situation is like the streets of the UK - including NI - it is not and never has been. It has often been completely impossible to secure the "crime scene" - sometimes these have been major contacts with 5.56, 7.62, underslung 40mm, 30mm cannon and mess tins thrown at the enemy whilst withdrawing under 12.7 fire. The "scene" cannot be re-visited for days, the witnesses are hostile, anything but honest and impartial if you can find them at all. Therefore investigations are based upon statements from the soldiers there at the time. Our soldiers are being asked to police the situation without any civilian police support - there were none at the end of TELIC 1 and a couple turned up in Baghdad or Div HQ later - "joined up government" - my arrse.

    Sometimes our commanders are not deciding between right and wrong but between wrong and less wrong. Then with 20/20 hindsight and the security of knowing they will never be in such positions, come the politicians, lawyers and journalists who feel free to judge our actions. This is the reality and it is not understood back here.

    My last point is that however well we tighten up the system so that the RMP investigate, pass to the APA and it goes to court martial, the process is still very long and is an absolute nightmare for the individuals accused. As we all know the damage to their careers and personal lives is incalculable. Why do you think Tim Collins got out? If we set the RMP to investigate every round fired then we remove the discretion of the chain of command to make judgement calls using the evidence available and their common sense. I repeat, this is not NI where even in the 70s the contacts were fewer, fewer hits were claimed and fewer rounds fired. Where does it end? When do war ROE apply and when not in a 3 block war? Once you open every single action to police scrutiny you disappear under a mire of investigations.
  15. It is amazing that we have so little confidence that the modern RMP are unable to conduct the investigations properly or with a sense of what's going on around them. I have clearly been blessed in my association with RMP officers, I dare to call several friends(!). I think that this is a true example of where leadership can have an effect on an otherwise relatively managerial or buraeucratic service. If the commanding RMP officer (at whatever level) develops a strong working relationship with the units it serves alongside then trust and faith will exist: therefore the investigation will be unhindered and swift.

    The purpose of an RMP investigation is to discover what the truth is. Their investigation will discover facts which will lead to the exoneration of those who acted correctly and to the prosecution of those who don't. The old adage justice delayed is justice denied is more apt today than ever before. If for no other reason a swift and professional investigation will lead to rebuttal of unfounded allegations. There needs to be a seachange in attitude towards this issue, both by the RMP (and I know soem grown up RMP officers are addressing this) and also by the rest of the Field Army.

    I think there is a massive amount of value in terms of morale and operational effectiveness if we are able to trust the investigation will be conducted in a timely and professional manner.