Liam Fox and Jorge Mendonca, then and now

Liam Fox, February 2007 on the allegations against British solider Jorge Medonca over the death of Baha Mousa:

A whiff of political correctness hangs heavy over the case against Col Mendonca.

Liam Fox, September 2011, on reading the report that condemned British solider Jorge Medonca over the death of Baha Mousa:

As I read the report, my predominant feeling was disgust that individuals could have acted in this brutal way and that their appalling behaviour has tarnished the reputation of the British army.

Liam Fox’s change of stance should be welcomed. He’s had new evidence presented to him, he’s changed his mind and that is how things should work. But it is a striking case of how different things can look when you are an opposition politician getting selective leaks from insiders or the recently retired from when you are a government minister reading a comprehensive investigation.

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7 Comments

  • Yes, OT, they’re in Coalition with a Party which, until March 2010 or so, was going on and on about “illegal wars” which had been backed by the Tories.

    Truth be told, at the time, I thought Mendoca had been hung-out-to-dry (I still, in a way, think he had been considering the command level-wide inattention/complicity which has been revealed by the inquiry). Then again, I know I never will reach a cabinet position in my own kitchen, unlike Fox’s priviledged access to information even in 2007.

    Considering the original investigation and sole conviction, however, there is a possibility that it was consciously concealed from him.

    ~alec

  • Tony Dawson 9th Sep '11 - 6:39pm

    “The report also singled out former commanding officer Colonel Jorge Mendonca for criticism saying he “ought” to have known what was going on in the detention centre and should have appreciated the dangers of “conditioning.” He was cleared, however, of having any knowledge of the beatings.”

    I must be one of the few people on this forum to have met Jorge Mendonca. I met him in between tours to Iraq. He was a personable man with a reputation as a brilliant leader of men, promoted at an early age. He was put in charge of trying to control a break-out insurgency in Basra (population 2 million) with about 500 men under his command. This was a totally impossible task for anyone. I would be most surprised if he had any time for involvement in issues of what happened to detainees. If Mendonca were supervising a prisone- of-war camp in a stable area, and what happened here happened then, I would consider him culpable. However, as far as I can see, his waking time while ‘on tour’ was spent trying to keep his men from being totally overrun and pretending to the locals that the forces under his control were far larger than they actually were.

    I was one of the more active Lib Dems completely opposed to our involvement in the Iraq war. If anyone now criticising Mendonca was involved in approving that mad intervention then they deserve disdain. The Basra occupation was totally-under-resourced and very nearly resulted in a massacre of many of our service personnel based there. Mendonca, who was cleared of any knowledge of the beatings, may well be made a scapegoat for the actions of his superiors in not resourcing this element of the campaign adequately, to the point where the C.O. could not be expected to be in control of all aspects of his forces’ operations.

    With regard to the wider behaviour of some of the British occupation forces, I would remind you that this sort of behaviour is carried out every single week in occupied Palestine by ‘settlers’ and Israeli security personnel. Because this level of abuse is largely roughly constant in level, rather than being a ‘flashpoint’, unless a western journalist gets killed, nobody murmur a word.

  • Okay, let’s try it another way. It was fairly clear from the begining that Mousa’s death was the result of, at the very least homicide which went far beyond the rules of war and was the responsibility of many more individuals other than the one thug-in-uniform who was convicted.

    Any insistance now that Mendonca was cleared of either personal or direct responsibility is disengenuous at best, considering the recent inquiry has poured scorn on that investigation.

    Human rights are for human beings, not pre-determined sub groups of this species. Anyone seeking to make excuses for the command-level failure is making precisely the same excuses as were made for the US military at the time of Abu Ghraib.

    Maybe Janis Karplinsky didn’t know about what was going on, but she should have. Maybe there were others in the command structure who failed in their responsibilities, but this does not negate her failures to conduct her duty.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Sep '11 - 7:10pm

    “Anyone seeking to make excuses for the command-level failure is making precisely the same excuses as were made for the US military at the time of Abu Ghraib.”

    I doubt very much whether you have ever witnessed a punch up in a pub, let alone seen warfare. The situations were completely different: the resources concerned were a factor or 20-fold different. The US in charge of Abu Ghraib were dominating the local scene. The British in Basra were desperately trying to stay alive more than their notional policing role. Mendonca aged a decade in a few months. He hardly slept. He is being used as a fall guy.

  • Let’s truy again redux.

    I doubt very much whether you have ever witnessed a punch up in a pub, let alone seen warfare.

    Point of record, I have both witnessed punch-ups and stabbings, and have had blades shoved in my face (all before I was 12) and a couple of years ago was physically assaulted by someone off his head on drugs who took offence at my choice of millinery.

    Even had I not, this would remain a ridiculous argument. Taken to its logical conclusion, no-one on political blogs could offer an opinion on a subject they’re not directly involved in, never mind civvies commenting on military operations. Who else here has been involved in managing a riot situation? No-one? Okay, let’s put Ian Tomlinson’s death to an excusable mistake.

    The situations were completely different: the resources concerned were a factor or 20-fold different.

    I recall the video footage of stone throwing Iraqi youths being dragged into Camp Breadbasket and being giving a good slippering, to the delighted chants of the cameraman. As highly distasteful as I found that, I _did_ sympathize with the squaddies who’d been under highly pressurized situations, seen their mates killed/injured and – as Cpl. Nobby Noakes said – felt a deep urge to give their attackers something to remember on a cold, winter night.

    Baha Mousa’s death was NOT COMPARABLE. He was completely and entirely and 100% uninvolved, and his treatment was solely due to the desire of thugs-in-uniform – not just Cpl. Donald Payne – to torment another human being, any human being. Don’t take my word for it. Consider the words of Staff Sgt. Steven Winstanley, who tried to revive him, and said that all present that day had disgraced common human decency never mind the 1st Queens.

    Mendonca aged a decade in a few months. He hardly slept. He is being used as a fall guy.

    And I’m sorry for his personal discomfiture. As I said above, I don’t doubt he was unware of and hung-out-to-dry for Mousa’s death and others’ treatment. The question that remains is, did he fail to rein in the behaviour of those under his command? The thing he was there to do.

    The answer to that is a resounding “yes”. This week’s inquiry has shown it was not a few bad apples, but a systemic failure in the command structure. That others – including Col. Dudley Giles – should answer for it does negate Mendonca’s failures one bit.

    It’s quite clear where you’re coming from. You’re bending over backwards to excuse one of yer own, to the point to throwing our own allies in Iraq under the bus. Yes, the dynamics of US forces at Abu Ghraib were different, but so was the intensity of the conflict… or d’you think US soldiers weren’t suffering from battle fatigue or grieving for their fallen fellows? So much for comradeship.

    Just to be clear, I aint defending or excusing Karplinsky, Lynndie England or whomever. Just observing that precisely your logic in doing so for Mendonca and others in the command structure applies equally there.

    Then there’s your mention of Israel. Before I’m moderated again, I am not seeking a discussion about the rights or wrongs of Israeli policy… just observing that Iraq neither borders Britain nor contains any centres of British population whom Mendonca and his men were assigned to defend. Yet, here you are, judging them by the best possible motives whilst damning those whom you haven’t even met with the harshest possible standards.

    Did I mention that an entirely innocent man was beaten to death under Mendonca’s command?

    ~alec

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