Reid: Abuse by troops is 'the exception'

By Andy McSmith 
Published: 21 February 2006

Soldiers in war zones like Iraq deserve more
understanding and less criticism from MPs, lawyers and
others who comment on them from afar, the Defence
Secretary, John Reid, has said. 

His remarks came just over a week after the world was
shocked by video footage of British soldiers
apparently assaulting unarmed Iraqi civilians. Three
soldiers have been arrested in connection with the
incident, which took place two years ago in the
southern Iraqi town of al-Amarah.

The Defence Secretary said he did not want British
servicemen to operate without any legal constraint.
"Soldiers themselves understand better than any of us
the importance of being seen to operate legally by the
local population," he insisted.

But in a speech at King's College London, he warned
that troops in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan are
operating in an "uneven playing field", having to
respect international law when facing opponents who
accept no constraints of any kind. He said
"terrorists" made constant use of the West's free
media, although they would not allow such freedom to
their critics if they had power. Mr Reid said that
just under half of 0.05 per cent of the 100,000
soldiers who have served in Iraq have been involved in
known cases of abuse.

"It is the very exceptional nature of the offences
which make headlines. But wouldn't it be nice,
wouldn't it be fair, if the contribution of the
100,000 good and brave acts and beliefs were given
equal prominence to the offences of the few.

"Then our screen would be full, night after night,
with examples of the freedoms gained, the lives
enhanced, the good done by our forces. Night after
night. Boring maybe, but better and more balanced." 


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