The UK armed forces deserve our respect and admiration - but they don't deserve anonymity

The case of two soldiers who admitted the sexual and racial abuse of Afghan citizens reveals an unhelpful double standard in the military

Share
Related Topics

The armed forces are heaped with praise, respect and gratitude, for they risk their lives daily in service of this country. A fallen soldier is honoured with a military funeral. His family is taken care of and his name is forever etched in history.

Up to this point, it all makes sense. But if that very soldier commits what can only be described asan arrogant and egotistical war crime, he is given the right to anonymity. This is one privilege he should not be granted.

In this case, they are known simply as Soldier X, a former private, and Soldier Y, a serving lance-corporal. Soldier X admitted trying to make an Afghan boy feel his crotch, telling him to “touch his special place”.  Soldier Y admitted his involvement in a racist offence, when an Afghan man was made to hold up a sign reading “Silly Paki” while being photographed. Then there is their patrol commander, Soldier Z, who was cleared of failing to deal with the incidents.

We learned the dignity of an Afghan child is worth £1000, the amount X was fined for attempting his cheap thrill.  For his pathetic racist conduct, Y was demoted in rank. When we wonder why British and American troops are not more welcome and respected abroad. It is stories like this that show us the bigger picture, and they cannot be ignored.

As a British Pakistani, I call two places home: London and Quetta, less than 80 miles from the Afghan border. I have met several Afghans who have watched their homes being destroyed and their people being killed. They sit listening to the drones overhead, hearing explosions in the distance. Despite this, of course they want to believe the troops are there for the good of their country, but they can’t, because they see and know so much more than we do.

Since British troops entered Afghanistan, it has been difficult to reason and to try and justify that yes, they are there to help. Of course we do not assume every soldier behaves in the same way. We hear about brave, honest soldiers, and along with the victims of this story, it is them we must feel sorry for; their reputations are tarnished by the ignorance of a minority. But this is the story of only three soldiers. How many more undocumented crimes have taken place?

I have every respect for the thousands of men and women representing the UK in the armed forces, and I appreciate serving abroad is a testing time, often with lifelong repercussions. But this cannot justify such vulgar behaviour. More so, Judge Advocate Large said the identity of the three men could not be revealed for their own safety. "Very especially in the light of recent events in London and the threat posed by lone wolves it seems to me that it would be wrong to lift the restrictions,” he said. But, as reported in this newspaper, this is not an unusual case, and soldiers’ identities have been protected in the past.

Why are they entitled to such a luxury, for a crime they committed on foreign soil, against innocent people they claimed to protect? We would not permit such behaviour in this country, so why do they think they can get away with it somewhere else? It is precisely this kind of behaviour that fuels hatred towards the West, and encourages extremism. And at a time of heightened sensitivity, it is this kind of special treatment that will cause further divisions in our society.

Then there is the somewhat embarrassing argument, excusing this behaviour as “banter”, a technique often used by soldiers to deal with the pressure. Judge Advocate Large said: “Many soldiers develop their own strategies for dealing with the pressure of life on operations. One of those strategies is banter, which has been a historic feature of military life and particularly life on operations.”

He said the lines between what is acceptable and what is not can sometimes become blurred, but he stressed the soldiers had been briefed about local culture and sensitivities, particularly those serving in Afghanistan, and so should have known how to behave. Correct me if I am mistaken, but surely there is no society in the world in which it would not be offensive to ask a boy to touch your private parts, or to call a dark-skinned person a Paki? In every country in the world such acts carry sexual and racist connotations. What exactly did they need to learn about that?

I am not disregarding the importance of a sense of humour to maintain mental strength in such difficult circumstances, but not at the price of the dignity and respect of fellow human beings. Whether the young Afghan boy will suffer long-lasting damage from this experience is not the argument. It is about the armed forces and the behaviour some of them deem acceptable. Do the few who misbehave think the uniform gives them a sense of entitlement? What they do not realise is that it does not bring entitlement, but responsibility, and when in uniform, everything they do will have a lasting impact. They should not be allowed to hide behind anonymity. This is not about Woolwich or protecting British soldiers, but about standing up and starting to take responsibility.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Engineer-(Support, ITIL, Software Vendor)

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Engineer-(Support, S...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Service Delivery and Support Manager

£55000 - £75000 per annum + excellent benefits: Harrington Starr: Service Deli...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Turkey and Qatar must step up the fight against Isis

Benedict Greening
 

Should America pay Isis ransom money to free hostages like James Foley?

Kim Sengupta
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home