U.K. plans inquiries into captured sailors crisis

/ Source: The Associated Press

Britain will hold inquiries into the seizure and detention of 15 British sailors by Iran and the military’s decision to allow the crew to sell their stories to the media, the defense secretary said Monday.

The review into the crisis itself, expected to last six weeks, will look into the sailors’ operation in the Persian Gulf and how the situation was handled, said Defense Secretary Des Browne.

It will be led by Royal Marines Lt. Gen. Sir Rob Fulton, who is the governor general of the British territory of Gibraltar.

“I am committed to ensuring Parliament and the public has the full facts,” Browne said, “but just as important to ensure that the (Defense Ministry) and services learn from these events and do not let them happen again.”

Browne has said he has no intention of resigning over the standoff. Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spokesman said the British leader had full confidence in his defense secretary.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards detained the British sailors after seizing their ship on March 23 in what Tehran claimed was Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. Britain insisted the crew was in Iraqi waters at the time.

The sailors were released after nearly two weeks in captivity.

2nd inquiry to look at media sales
The second inquiry, to be overseen by an independent figure with media experience, will examine the Defense Ministry decision to allow the captured sailors to sell their stories to the media after their release — a departure from normal military policy.

Though Browne reversed the decision after two days, the outcry was fierce. Critics said allowing the sailors to sell their stories was undignified and inappropriate.

“I take responsibility for what happened,” Browne said. “I have acted to make sure we learn the lessons of the whole episode in a manner that allows for full parliamentary scrutiny.”

“But as we go through this process, we should remember the most important point in all this, which is that we got our people back — safe and on our terms,” he added.

Only two of the crew members — including the sole woman, Faye Turney — made deals to sell their stories. Crew members also have been criticized for making statements while in captivity saying they had strayed into Iranian waters and apologizing.

‘A national embarrassment’
Nick Harvey, defense spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said the coverage of the crisis was “a national embarrassment.”

“The judgment that it would be right to allow them to tell their stories had hardly been vindicated by the sort of reports we have seen,” Harvey said.

He referred to an interview given by Arthur Batchelor, 20, who sold his story to the Daily Mirror. He said Batchelor had complained that he had his iPod taken away and that his captors called him Mr. Bean.

“This is not something that has covered the nation in glory,” Harvey said.

Blair has said that permitting the crew to negotiate with media organizations was not a good idea.

“The crucial point is our 15 personnel were released, and they were released without a deal,” Blair’s spokesman said on condition of anonymity because of government policy.

“Des Browne has said ... that if he was asked about the decision made by the Royal Navy today, he would make a different decision. But it should be seen in the context of a genuine dilemma, and that dilemma was that the personnel concerned wanted to set the record straight, there was pressure and money available from the media, and the navy took the decision,” the spokesman said.

Opposition Conservative Party leader David Cameron accused the Defense Ministry of “putting first the importance of a good headline, a good bit of PR ... but they were putting at risk the long-term reputation of our armed forces.”