Britain Bans Service Members From Selling Interviews

Monday, April 9th 2007, 7:25 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ Britain on Monday banned all military service members from talking to the media in return for payment, reversing its decision to allow the 15 marines and sailors held captive in Iran to sell their stories.

Defense Secretary Des Browne issued a statement saying the navy faced a ``very tough call'' over its initial decision to allow the payments, which came under sharp criticism. The new ban will not affect those who already gave accounts, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

On Monday, in one of the first accounts, Faye Turney, the sole woman in the detained crew, said that she ``felt like a traitor'' for agreeing to her captors' demands to appear on Iranian TV and that she believed they had measured her for a coffin.

The Sun newspaper also reported that Turney, 25, was told by her captors that her 14 male colleagues had been released while she alone was being held.

Another sailor, Arthur Batchelor, 20, said he was singled out by his captors because he was the youngest of the crew.

The financial arrangements for Turney and Batchelor were not disclosed, but Turney said the offer she accepted was not the largest she had been offered.

Browne said lessons must be learned from a review the Ministry of Defense is now conducting regarding the regulations that affect service members talking with media.

``I want to be sure those charged with these difficult decisions have clear guidance for the future,'' Browne said. ``Until that time, no further service personnel will be allowed to talk to the media about their experiences in return for payment.''

The British sailors and marines were searching a merchant ship on March 23 when they and their two inflatable boats were intercepted by Iranian vessels near the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway, U.S. and British officials said. Iran claimed the British had strayed into its territorial waters, a charge that Britain denied.

During the crew's captivity, Britain accused Iran of using the group for propaganda for putting them on Iranian television in appearances in which they ``admitted'' trespassing in Tehran's waters. They were freed last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called their release a gift to Britain.

Turney, who also sold her story to British broadcaster ITV1, told The Sun that she feared at one point that she would be killed.

``One morning, I heard the noise of wood sawing and nails being hammered near my cell. I couldn't work out what it was. Then a woman came into my cell to measure me up from head to toe with a tape,'' The Sun quoted Turney as saying.

``She shouted the measurements to a man outside. I was convinced they were making my coffin.''

Turney said she asked one Iranian official where her male colleagues were.

``He rubbed the top of my head and said with a smile, 'Oh no, they've gone home. Just you now,''' she said.

At another time, Turney said the same official asked her how she felt about dying for country.

By her fifth day in detention, she said she was told that she could be free within two weeks if she confessed that the crew had intruded into Iranian waters.

``If I didn't, they'd put me on trial for espionage and I'd go to prison for several years. I had just an hour to think about it,'' The Sun quoted her as saying.

``If I did it, I feared everyone in Britain would hate me. But I knew it was my one chance of fulfilling a promise to Molly (her daughter) that I'd be home for her birthday on May 8.

``I decided to take that chance, and write in such a way that my unit and my family would know it wasn't the real me.''

Turney told ITV1 that she ``felt like a traitor'' when she was forced to write letters of confession that were shown on Iranian television.

Batchelor said in an interview with the Daily Mirror that he found his capture ``beyond terrifying.''

``They seemed to take particular pleasure in mocking me for being young,'' he said. ``A guard kept flicking my neck with his index finger and thumb. I thought the worst.''

Retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Cordingly said Monday he believes the sailors and marines were being used ``almost as a propaganda tool'' by the British government.

``I was depressed because I thought the team were so good on the press conference _ they didn't overplay their unpleasant experience and we could all imagine what they had gone through,'' Cordingly said in a British Broadcasting Corp. radio interview.

Turney said she was offered ``a hell of a lot of money'' for her story and said she was not ``taking the biggest offer.''

``I want everyone to know my story from my side, what I went through,'' she told ITV1. She added part of the money she was paid would go toward helping personnel on her ship, the frigate HMS Cornwall.

After their release last week, the crew members told reporters in Britain they were subjected to constant psychological pressure in detention.

In an attempt to dispute that claim, Iran broadcast new video Sunday showing some of the crew playing chess and watching television during their captivity.

Some of the footage, briefly aired on Iran's state-run Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Alam, also showed crew members watching soccer on TV and eating at a long table decorated with flowers. The crew members could be heard laughing and chatting.

A newscaster said the video proved ``the sailors had complete liberty during their detention, which contradicts what the sailors declared after they arrived in Britain.''

At a news conference Friday, Lt. Felix Carman, who was in charge of the crew, said the sailors and marines were only allowed to socialize for the benefit of the Iranian media.