Ben Griffin (British Army soldier)
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|Born||1977 (age 36–37)
Benjamin Griffin (born 1977) is a former British SAS soldier who refused to return to Iraq and left the Army, citing not only the "illegal" tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces but also that the invasion itself was contrary to international law. He expected to be court-martialled, but was instead let go with a glowing testimonial from his commanding officer. He spoke to an anti-war rally in 2008 about UK involvement in extraordinary rendition the day before he was served with an injunction preventing him from speaking publicly and from publishing material about his time in the SAS.
Military Career, Iraq and decision to leave the Army
Griffin served in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan as a member of the Parachute Regiment. He subsequently joined the SAS and served in Baghdad alongside American forces, including Delta Force personnel.
The Americans had this catch-all approach to lifting suspects. The tactics were draconian and completely ineffective. The Americans were doing things like chucking farmers into Abu Ghraib or handing them over to the Iraqi authorities, knowing full well they were going to be tortured.
The Americans had a well-deserved reputation for being trigger happy. In the three months that I was in Iraq, the soldiers I served with never shot anybody. When you asked the Americans why they killed people, they would say 'we were up against the tough foreign fighters'. I didn't see any foreign fighters in the time I was over there.
I can remember coming in off one operation which took place outside Baghdad, where we had detained some civilians who were clearly not insurgents, they were innocent people. I couldn't understand why we had done this, so I said to my troop commander 'would we have behaved in the same way in the Balkans or Northern Ireland?' He shrugged his shoulders and said 'this is Iraq', and I thought 'and that makes it all right?'
As far as I was concerned that meant that because these people were a different colour or a different religion, they didn't count as much. You cannot invade a country pretending to promote democracy and behave like that.
Commenting in similar vein to another former British SAS soldier, Griffin also gives his account of how the Americans view Iraqis:
As far as the Americans were concerned, the Iraqi people were sub-human, untermenschen. You could almost split the Americans into two groups: ones who were complete crusaders, intent on killing Iraqis, and the others who were in Iraq because the Army was going to pay their college fees. They had no understanding or interest in the Arab culture. The Americans would talk to the Iraqis as if they were stupid and these weren't isolated cases, this was from the top down. There might be one or two enlightened officers who understood the situation a bit better, but on the whole that was their general attitude. Their attitude fuelled the insurgency. I think the Iraqis detested them.
He is quoted in an article in The Scotsman as saying:
"I saw a lot of things in Baghdad that were illegal or just wrong. I knew, so others must have known, that this was not the way to conduct operations if you wanted to win the hearts and minds of the local population. . . and if you can't win the hearts and minds of the people, you can't win the war."
The events that Griffin witnessed in Iraq, and in particular the conduct of US forces, led him to decide not to return there. He informed his commanding officer of his intentions and also of his opinion that "Tony Blair and the Government had lied to the country and had deceived every British serviceman and woman serving in Iraq."
Despite his expectation that he would be arrested, labelled a coward, court-martialed and imprisoned he was allowed to leave the Army with his military record intact. In his testimonial Griffin's commanding officer described him as a "balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions".
On 21 February 2008 then Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a statement to the House of Commons in which he disclosed that two US extraordinary rendition flights had landed on British territory in 2002. This was in direct contradiction of previous statements made by former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Miliband apologised to the House and claimed that the previous denials had been made in good faith. However the revelations were a cause of deep embarrassment to the government and led to opposition calls for an inquiry amid accusations of "state-sponsored abduction". The chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, Labour MP Mike Gapes, accused the US of lying to the British government.
It was in response to these revelations that Ben Griffin made a statement during a press conference on 25 February 2008 in which he said that:
"The use of British Territory and airspace pales into insignificance in light of the fact that it has been British soldiers detaining the victims of Extraordinary Rendition in the first place. Since the invasion of Afghanistan in the autumn of 2001 UKSF has operated within a joint US/UK Task Force. This Task Force has been responsible for the detention of hundreds if not thousands of individuals in Afghanistan and Iraq. Individuals detained by British soldiers within this Task force have ended up in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, Bagram Theatre Internment Facility, Balad Special Forces Base, Camp Nama BIAP and Abu Ghraib Prison."
He went on to lament the degradation of British military culture he perceived:
The British Army once had a reputation for playing by the rules. That reputation has been tarnished over the last seven years. We have accepted illegality as the norm. I have no doubt that over the coming months and years increasing amounts of information concerning the actions of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will be become public.
On 28 February 2008 Griffin made a ten minute speech to the World Against War rally regarding British complicity in extraordinary rendition and torture by US forces in Iraq. Shortly afterwards the British government was granted a high court injunction by Mr Justice Openshaw which prevented Griffin from repeating these allegations. As Griffin explained in a short press statement: "As of 1940 hrs 29/02/08 I have been placed under an injunction preventing me from speaking publicly and publishing material gained as a result of my service in UKSF (SAS)."
Ministry of Defence lawyers stated that their reason for requesting the injunction was based on Mr Griffin's contract with the MoD and the "law of confidentiality". Other sources, including Griffin himself, contradicted this saying that the action was a politically motivated attempt to silence his criticism at a [politically] sensitive time.
Griffin started Veterans for Peace UK after a chance meeting with a member of Veterans for Peace in a London bookshop. In November 2011 he joined the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest encampment outside St Paul's Cathedral in London, with another Veterans for Peace member, Matthew Horne.1
- ^ Townsend, Mark (13 November 2011). "Veterans join Occupy protest as St Paul's canon shows support". The Observer, 13 November 2011 (pp.8) (London). Retrieved 14 November 2011.
- ^ Press TV, 26 September 2011
- ^ Rayment, Sean (12 March 2006). "SAS soldier quits Army in disgust at 'illegal' American tactics in Iraq". Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2006 (London). Retrieved 12 March 2006.
- ^ Rayment, Sean (12 March 2006). "'I didn't join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy'". Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2006 (London). Retrieved 18 March 2006.
- ^ Hastings, Max (12 March 2006). "The fatal divide at the heart of the Coalition". Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2006 (London). Retrieved 18 March 2006.
- ^ "'SAS soldier leaves army over 'illegal' Iraq war'". The Scotsman, 13 March 2006 (Edinburgh). 13 March 2006.
- ^ "'UK apology over rendition flights'". BBC News, 21 February 2008 (London). 21 February 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- ^ "'Former SAS soldier blows apart Miliband denial of UK torture involvement'". Information Clearing House, 25 February 2008 (London). 25 February 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2013.