[1991:] A British soldier who went absent without leave because he did not believe in allied war aims in the Gulf gave himself up to military authorities in London yesterday, writes John McGhie. After 72 days on the run, dodging military police to give impromptu speeches at anti-war meetings, Lance Corporal Vic Williams handed himself in at the Royal Military Police HQ at Rochester Row.
L/Cpl Williams, a single man aged 28, went absent from his base in Dortmund, Germany, on 28 December, the day his unit from the 27th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, was due to fly to Saudi Arabia. His explanation for going Awol - legally different from deserting, which carries a higher penalty in the army - was a growing disenchantment with the reasons for going to the Gulf.
'It seemed to me that the US and Britain were using their soldiers as mercenaries to support a family dynasty in the Middle East. I had no qualms about dying for my country if it was under direct threat, but flying 2,000 miles across the Mediterranean to fight for a foreign business concern did not seem to come under that category,' he said before giving himself up. L/Cpl Williams, who has been in the army for five years, thinks the military may make an example of him and punish him severely.
Although the Ministry of Defence has said L/Cpl Williams is the only regular serviceman to have gone Awol during the Gulf conflict for political reasons, he says there are 'dozens' more hiding in Britain and Germany. (Observer, 10 Mar)
[1998:] Douglas Crosskery was shot dead in the
Kuwaiti desert while helping others escape [...].
He became the only British man killed by Iraqi
guns; all other British fatalities in the Gulf
were caused by so-called 'friendly fire' from
American forces. (Henry McDonald, Observer, 22
[1998:] British troops serving
in the Gulf War were ordered to turn off chemical attack alarms and
hand in protective suits a week before a cloud of nerve gas is
reported to have passed over their base. The soldiers had no means
of detecting the cloud or protecting themselves from the fall-out
from destroyed Iraqi bunkers used to store the nerve gas sarin, an
Observer investigation into the subsequent plight of veterans from
32 Field Hospital has revealed. [...] In the seven years since the
unit returned, a high proportion of soldiers have suffered serious
illness. Around 100 of its estimated 350 members are thought to be
suffering from Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), a complex of ailments,
including extreme fatigue, memory loss, aching joints and muscles,
and depression. [One of them, Warrant Officer Ray] Bristow, now 40,
is 80 per cent disabled. In 1990, he ran the London Marathon; now he
has rheumatism, degenerative spine disease, chronic fatigue,
irritable bowel syndrome, memory loss, clinical depression and 13
other conditions. (Observer, ? Nov/Dec)
[1998:] [On 26 February 1991, in the last days of the Gulf War, a convoy of British tanks and armoured cars was attacked by two American A-10 fighter planes in the Iraqi desert.] The two pilots had been given the correct grid reference ten minutes ago and had read it back to ground control for confirmation. The A-10s had been 'made available' to the British controllers to mop up a few Iraqi tanks lying abandoned in their ditches. A flight of four F-16s had already shot them up: it was leaving as the A-10s approached. To make doubly sure that there was no confusion, the British controllers requested the F-16 leader to describe to the A-10 pilots the target area, which he did in some detail. [...] The A-10 pilots went quiet for a few minutes until controller McSkimming radioed to ask whether these targets were worth another mission. The lead pilot replied that they had just destroyed part of a moving line of fifty Iraqi T-55 tanks.
That was when the penny dropped: the grid reference was urgently requested, and the awful truth began to dawn. The A-10 pilots were twenty kilometres off course, over terrain which looked nothing like the F-16's description. They had attacked, without obtaining clearance to fire, a target utterly different from a few tanks immobilised in ditches. [...] In any event a binocular pass from eight thousand feet would clearly have shown the distinctive outline of the British tanks and their orange fluorescent panels. [...] All this was done in 'turkey shoot' conditions: under a clear sky with no enemy threat from the air of from the ground. Yet in radio silence these pilots took the law into their own hands, killing nine British soldiers and leaving twelve others seriously wounded.
The cover-up began as soon as the deaths were recognised as resulting from 'friendly fire'. Neither the British nor American leaders wanted this incident to spoil their triumph. General Schwartzkopf (whose care of his own men was legendary) said, 'There's no excuse for it, I'm not going to apologise for it'. But he went on to refer to bad weather, and 'the extreme differences in the languages of the forces' (English and American English in this case) and 'very, very close combat' in the area. The little white lies to the parents started in the official condolences letter a few days later. The first came from HRH the Duke of Kent, Colonel in Chief of the Fusiliers, who said each soldier was killed 'by an Allied airborne attack in very bad weather and visibility'. When the families heard from survivors that the weather was good and visibility perfect they were angered by the Duke's dismissive palliative 'you have the consolation of knowing that he died on active service for his Queen and country'. [...] There was, of course, aching bitterness and real fury, amongst the men of the 4th Brigade and the middle-ranking officers who cared for them. [...]
A Board of Inquiry must by statute be held into deaths on active service. Its report was claimed by the government to be a top secret. The families were sent a summary of its conclusions, under cover of a letter which Tom King - the Secretary of State for Defence - did not even bother to sign. [...] (King did not disclose that the full report had been sent to the Americans weeks before.) The simple truth was that this so-called 'inquiry' sat briefly on 15 May at an air base near High Wycombe, and only heard three British witnesses. There had been no 'evidence presented' by the A-10 pilots. All the Board was shown were the short statements they wrote on landing. And it was not clear at all that the A-10 pilots were 'striving to achieve their individual tasks' - the attack on the Warriors was nothing like the task they had been given. There was no 'fast-moving battle' at the time, and no 'pressure of events' or other 'difficulties'. The summary misled Parliament both about the incident and the inquiry into it.
The Prime Minister, a few months later, was shamed by some media coverage into writing another letter to the parents, which he took care to sign personally. John Major's letter excused the delay [by saying that ']Like us, the Americans wanted to make sure that there was no information that had been overlooked and that everything had been made available to the Board of Inquiry'. This was nonsense. The Americans had withheld the most crucial evidence - the testimony of the pilots themselves [...]. Major nonetheless went on to defend them, on the basis that since 'they believed that they had positively identified enemy targets on the ground, in the circumstances they would have seen no need to make further contact with the [British controller] before attacking'. What is quite breathtaking about this passage is that it ignores the first rule of close air support operations, namely that no lethal attack should be launched without receiving a target coordinate. Here was the British Prime Minister, making a bogus excuse for the negligent conduct that killed nine young Britons.
I was approached to act for all the parents at the forthcoming inquest - their final opportunity to establish the truth. [They were suffering] not only from the loss of their sons, but from being treated as though that sacrifice did not matter. They had been palmed off with false information and an inadequate investigation, then patted on the head by the Prime Minister and told to put up, shut up and cheer up. Against the all-important political purpose of not upsetting the Americans, they were nothing. [The MOD] were keen to establish that no blame could be attached to the British ground forces or to the air controllers but they baulked at the logical conclusion, which was that the A-10 pilots had been responsible for the killings. They wanted a verdict of accidental death. [...] The evidence was pointing to gross negligence. It was vital for the pilots to make some sort of appearance, if only by radio, to answer for their conduct. [Asked about this by British Minister of Defence Malcolm Rifkind, American Defense Secretary Richard] Cheney snorted afterwards that there was no way he was going to make the pilots available for a 'media circus' (this from an American) while Rifkind was reported as saying 'The Americans are handling the affair sensitively'. It should be recorded that the MOD knew the identity of these pilots, and in breach of the coroner's rules it withheld the names from the inquest. This was at the request of the Pentagon, which feared it would subject them to 'unwarranted public scrutiny'. (Since they had killed nine men, some public scrutiny might have been warranted.) It would also deter 'uninhibited testimony' about other deadly mishaps - an admission, in effect, that the pilots would be in danger of incriminating themselves if they testified. It is interesting to note the Pentagon's 'volte face' shortly after the inquest, when it identified and court-martialled pilots of an AWACS plane whose negligence led to the shooting down of two helicopters over Northern Iraq and the loss of twenty-six lives. The principal difference was that the lives lost were those of American officers, not British squaddies.
[...] Where there has been no trial, the inquest must offer a substitute, becoming a place of catharsis where the dead may be put to rest with the dignity that comes from a determined search for the truth. The families needed to purge their bitterness after the deaths of their sons had been trivialised by being wrongfully excused by the 'fog of war'. The jury did not let them down: it delivered the verdict of 'unlawful killing': aerial manslaughter, by gross negligence. It was a true verdict, and the parents' battle to obtain it was heroic because it was fought against two governments determined that it should not come out. [...]
The American military publicly pretended not to understand, but the inquest verdict sent a message which shocked the political and military establishments of both nations, because it contravened their certainty that 'these things happen in the fog of war'. [...] The fog of war does not excuse negligence: it lessens the standard of liability, but never removes it completely. (Geoffrey Robertson, The Justice Game 298 ff.)
[2003:] Marc Léger, [ein kanadischer Soldat, wurde] in Afghanistan von einer US-amerikanischen Bombe getötet [...]. Mit ihm starben drei weitere Soldaten aus Kanada, acht wurden verletzt. [...] Es war ein Unglück, das typisch sein dürfte für die Kriege des 21. Jahrhunderts, denn die Unübersichtlichkeit auf den Schlachtfeldern nimmt zu. Große, konzentrierte Truppenverbände sind keine mächtigen Waffen mehr, sie sind zu langsam, zu schwerfällig und deshalb gute Ziele für moderne Lenkbomben. Aus diesem Grund diskutieren amerikanische Militärplaner das "swarming", den Einsatz kleiner Einheiten, die weitgehend unabhängig vom Rest der Streitkräfte operieren. Der Afghanistan-Krieg war der erste Krieg, der ausschließlich durch den Einsatz kleiner Kommandoeinheiten und Bomber gewonnen wurde. Die Zahl der getöteten US-Soldaten war gering, es starben 14 Kämpfer, der Prozentsatz der Toten durch friendly fire war hoch: etwa 20 Prozent. Ähnlich war es im Golfkrieg, dem ersten Krieg, in dem in größerem Umfang "intelligente" Bomben eingesetzt wurden. 367 US-Soldaten wurden getötet, 17 Prozent durch friendly fire. In beiden Kriegen starben die Soldaten, weil verbündete Kämpfer übermüdet waren und überfordert. (Uwe Buse, Spiegel, 1. März)
[2006:] Weil er sich weigerte, im Irak Dienst zu leisten, ist ein britischer Armeearzt von einem Militärgericht zu acht Monaten Haft verurteilt worden. Der Luftwaffen-Leutnant hatte die US-Invasion auf eine Stufe mit "Nazi-Deutschland" gestellt. [...] Der 37-jährige Malcolm Kendall-Smith wird nach dem Urteil von heute zudem aus der Royal Air Force entlassen. Kendall-Smith hatte sich nach zweimaligem Einsatz im Irak im vergangenen Juni geweigert, erneut an den Golf zurückzukehren und dafür ein militärisches Training zu absolvieren. Zur Begründung sagte er, er halte den Militäreinsatz im Irak für illegal. [...] Der Krieg im Irak sei "eine imperialistische Invasion". [...] In einer schriftlichen Erklärung berief sich der Offizier unter anderem auf ein Gutachten von Generalstaatsanwalt Peter Goldsmith. Der Rechtsberater der Regierung hatte in einem im April 2005 publik gewordenen vertraulichen Schreiben vom März 2003 an Regierungschef Tony Blair Zweifel daran geäußert, dass der Einmarsch in den Irak durch eine Uno-Resolution gedeckt sei.
Die Militärstaatsanwaltschaft wies Kendall-Smiths Argumentation zurück. Zum Zeitpunkt seiner Befehlsverweigerung im vergangenen Juni seien die internationalen Koalitionstruppen auf Bitten der demokratisch gewählten irakischen Übergangsregierung im Land gewesen, betonten sie. Der Einsatz sei damit nicht illegal. Kendall-Smith war für Einsätze in Afghanistan und im Golfkrieg ausgezeichnet worden. (Britischer Irak-Verweigerer zu acht Monaten Gefängnis verurteilt, Spiegel Online, 13. April)
note on Vic Williams