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JUST PLAIN PUZZLEMENT
by Dale Brown, [IMAGE]2007

ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED AT TheBigFiveOh.com Blog @ Yahoo.Com, Saturday April 14, 2007

[MEGAFORTRESS.COM image] OK, I've kept my trap shut long enough about the 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines captured by the Iranians. At first I didn't want to say anything because they are allies, they went through an obviously harrowing experience, and because I have never been a prisoner of a foreign power (at least for real), so I can't say I've been there or had personal experience.

I also want to say at first that Iran's behavior in this was completely outside the bounds of international law and civilized behavior. It's obvious the Revolutionary Guards wanted a propaganda show and carefully targeted the British boarding party for capture. Their treatment of the crew was despicable. Why Iran is escaping serious international condemnation and criticism, akin to what President Bush and his administration is STILL getting about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, is way beyond me. The Iranians are the real bastards in this whole event.

Even if the Brits were in Iranian waters--which I don't believe they were--in peactime the normal rules of engagement would be to warn the offending party away by radio and visual signals, and only after repeated warnings would physical intervention take place. The Iranians obviously weren't interested in just shooing the Brits away--they wanted hostages.

But this article is about the actions of the British captives, which I found highly questionable and curious.

I've attended two military SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) schools: the U.S. Air Force SERE school at Fairchild AFB, Washington, which all Air Force aircrew members are required to attend; and the NATO SERE school at Panzerkasern, Germany, which I volunteered for. Both courses include a prisoner of war (POW) training facility, complete with trained and skillful interrogators and a variety of devices and implements designed to probe each student's physical and psychological weak spots. I also taught SERE, aircrew life support, and basic aircrew survival techniques as an additional duty for many years. So I feel somewhat qualified to say...

...what in HELL were those chaps thinking?

I'm not criticizing their decision to surrender. I have experience with U.S. Coast Guard boarding parties in doing research for my novels, especially "Hammerheads," and I know that not every member of a boarding party are trained fighters. In this instance, seven of the 15 were Royal Marines--the other were Royal Navy sailors, probably lightly armed, most likely detailed out to handle the boat, assist the marines, contribute their knowledge of a ship's design, layout, and systems to help the search, add a few more sets of eyes while on deck, and little more. They certainly were outnumbered and outgunned, and that's not a good time to decide to fight it out, especially when a state of war does not exist.

But when in captivity like that, KEEP YOUR MOUTHS SHUT!

In the U.S. military, the standard rule for any captive is SAY NOTHING except name, rank, serial number, and date of birth. The rules were modified after POW experiences in Vietnam, where captives were tortured mercilessly and sometimes killed for sticking to the "John Wayne" rules. Today, a POW faces no disciplinary action or dishonor if he or she truly believed that their life was in jeopardy if they didn't talk.

But did the captives that appeared on TV REALLY, HONESTLY think they were in danger of being killed if they didn't talk or participate in the propaganda sessions? Britain and Iran are not at war! At the very most this incident would be classified as an "international incident" or a law enforcement matter. The Brits couldn't be called spies because they wore uniforms. They couldn't be called aggressors because they didn't attack anyone, and were not involved in any acts of violence or criminal activity.

Certainly they had to know that if they just remained silent and didn't fight back while in captivity, eventually they'd be repatriated. At worst they'd be hauled in front of some kind of court and put on display. But in either case, they were in no danger of being executed. Did they believe they were going to be shot if they didn't talk? WHY did the Brits cooperate so fully and so easily with their captors?

Again, I wasn't there. The captives described "psychological" and some physical torture. They described being kept in cold concrete cells and hearing sounds of guns being cocked outside their cell doors; Leading Seaman Faye Turney was told she had been left behind by the others and described being "measured for her coffin." There is no doubt they were being softened up by the Revolutionary Guards.

Everybody talks when in captivity--it's only a matter of time. Interrogators observe the captive and try various combinations of physical, psychological, and emotional stress to find a weakness and exploit it. Everyone's different. Depending on their physical and mental strength and level of training, some can keep silent for days or weeks; others might take only hours. The key is to say nothing until you reach the breaking point, then say as little as possible to make the stress stop.

Unfortunately, talking usually leads to other forms of cooperation. Soon it won't be enough to just answer questions, but now you have to do other things to make your captors happy and avoid stress: look at charts, photographs, or other pieces of evidence; draw diagrams or maps; or write letters or confessions. It's all part of the interrogation process. Once a captive slips up and breaks his or her silence, it creates an opening that the interrogator can exploit.

Again, every captive is different. Everyone breaks eventually--some break quickly, others not so quickly. On average, getting a captive to say something other than name, rank, serial number, and date of birth takes a relatively short time.

But getting a captive to write a letter of apology admitting they were in Iranian waters is not a simple matter--talking is one thing, but writing a legible, lucid, propaganda-useful letter is quite another, even if the captive is told exactly to write. That usually takes a much longer time. Faye Turney apparently wrote TWO such letters--pretty astounding to me.

We are trained to never write or sign anything. We are allowed to correspond with the outside world using International Red Cross lettergrams, but even these were exploited for propaganda purposes, faked, or forged, so their use was discouraged. If you are forced to write something, you'd write it with your opposite hand, or crooked, sloppily, or disjointed--any way you can think of to tell the readers that you're under duress. Turney's letters appeared well-written--scripted, yes, but really not indicative of much duress.

But then we saw some of the captives standing in front of an Iranian maritime chart, pointing here and there and apparently showing that they were indeed in Iranian waters. To me, that was unbelievable! My belief is that most soldiers or sailors would have to be under very strong duress indeed to get up in front of cameras and talk and point to a chart. What happened? How could they do something so aggregious?

It's possible for an entire firing squad off-camera to be aiming their rifles at the poor guy, threatening to blow him into smithereens, but in that case you could probably see the fear and panic in their faces and mannerisms. I didn't see much fear during that episode. It looked like he was giving a standard after-action briefing. It looked completely extemporaneous and unscripted.

The unwritten rule as a captive is never pass up an opportunity to be photographed, no matter how much the photo session may be staged or orchestrated for propaganda purposes. Seeing a captive alive is extremely important for morale for your family and buddies, and every photo can offer great intelligence information.

But even so, when in front of the cameras: NAME, RANK, SERIAL NUMBER, and DATE OF BIRTH! True, if you say nothing else they may decide not to photograph you after all, which is probably why we only saw 6 of the 15 British captives--the others probably refused to do what their Iranian captors told them to do, and so were not seen.

If you are forced to go in front of the cameras, a basic resistance technique is to hesitate, stumble over your words, start over, change your voice inflection and speed, look unsteady on your feet, wring your hands, do random body or head movements--in other words, look a little confused, discombobulated, anxious, or disconnected. Don't do it bad enough to get beat up and thrown back into your cell, but do it subtlely enough so others may speculate that you've been drugged, coerced, or were coached.

The Brits I saw giving their talk in front of the Iranian maritime chart didn't do any of that. They looked completely, well, British--professional, succinct, clear, and organized. In other words, it looked as if the talk was completely voluntary and they were being cooperative.

It's OK to be non-violent while in captivity, but it's NOT OK to cooperate. It is every soldier's responsibility never to give the enemy important information or to aid and assist the enemy in any way. I hate to say it, but in my opinion the Brits who appeared on camera blew it. They were either not very well trained in resistance and evasion, or they forgot or ignored their training.

It is a basic interrogator's technique to separate the captives, especially from superior officers or noncoms, because it's easier for discipline to break down when you're alone or not under supervision. But there were numerous captives shown on TV together, and they had an officer with them. Again, it seems as if they had no resistance training, or abandoned it in the heat of the moment. Unfortunately, once one captive breaks, it's easier for another to break, and soon you have a nice solid group of very apologetic, chatty captives. Perfect propaganda stuff.

I hate to say it, but the Iranians won this confrontation, and in my opinion the captives we saw on TV didn't acquit themselves very well.

But the bottom line is this:

The primary mission for any captive is to survive and return to his family and unit, and in the end, the Brits accomplished their mission successfully. I will never take that away from them.

As for the rest...well, there will be other battles.

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