Britain Military Says Freed Sailors And Marines Won't Be Punished For Making Apologies To Iran

Thursday, April 5th 2007, 7:47 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ None of the sailors and marines freed by Iran will be punished for making apologies to the Iranians, the Defense Ministry said Thursday, but authorities will study the procedures being followed by the Royal Navy team when it was captured.

Although no penalty is planned, officials will examine the circumstances in which some of the 15 sailors and marines appeared in videos on Iranian state television offering regrets for entering Iran's territorial waters, while Britain's government has insisted they were in Iraqi waters.

The footage was met with disgust in Britain, where many were angry at Iran but some also harshly criticized the prisoners for caving in.

Defense officials sought to quash the criticism of the personnel.

``They did exactly as they should have done from start to finish and we are proud of them,'' said Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, the head of Britain's armed forces and top military adviser.

Most British military personnel are given training on being captured, but only special operations troops and pilots receive specialized training on what to do if taken hostage, the ministry said.

Although experts said the broadcast admissions were almost surely made under duress, many British newspapers lashed out at the crew and the country's military.

``First, there is the apparent incompetence of the Royal Navy in providing insufficient protection to lightly armed inflatables, at a time when relations between Iran and the West were particularly volatile following the imposition of U.N. sanctions,'' the Daily Telegraph said in an editorial.

``Second, the seized personnel lost no time in admitting to having trespassed and in apologizing for their mistake. The old military practice of giving name, rank and number, and no more, has obviously been abandoned.''

Some critics said American troops would have behaved differently.

The Code of the U.S. Fighting Force, which guides troops if they are taken captive, says soldiers must resist participating in propaganda broadcasts or furnishing self-criticism of any kind.

But despite that prohibition, Americans who acted similarly to the Britons would ``most certainly not'' be punished, said Thomas Donnelly, a security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute who served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee for four years.

``Those were transparently cooked-up confessions. It would be wrong to criticize those people, and besides they were not betraying anything to put anyone at risk,'' he said.

The British personnel were in two inflatable boats when captured March 23 while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway long a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran. They had just inspected an Indian cargo ship, one of 66 boardings they had performed since beginning their mission in March, British officials said.

Iran said the crew entered Iranian waters. Britain insisted they were in Iraqi waters working under a U.N. mandate. A similar incident took place in 2004 when Iran seized a British crew for three days.

The Defense Ministry said its investigation would study the crew's mission, location and tactics.

After the freed naval team returned home Thursday, Britain's Sky News raised questions about its activities. It said an officer in the captured crew, Royal Marine Capt. Chris Air, had said in an interview three weeks ago that the team was gathering intelligence on Iran during its patrols.

The Defense Ministry denied the boat patrol was an intelligence mission, saying the team just spoke to ship captains in the Persian Gulf and Shatt Al-Arab to determine who is using shipping routes.

Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Iran, said the incident would force the Royal Navy to re-examine the way it conducts operations in the Persian Gulf.

He said it was crucial to work out with Iran ways to avoid similar incidents. ``But more important than that is the need for additional force protection for exposed naval units,'' he said.