Another day, another military controversy. This time - for I have lost count of the exact number of criminal/illegal/immoral (select adjective at will) episodes involving NATO armed forces - American marines have, seemingly, recorded themselves on film urinating over Afghan corpses; laughing and mocking for good measure. Who now would dare to stand up and naively shoot down and ridicule the arguments of vociferous critics of the military? Who now shall continue to ignorantly preach the blinkered view that our armed forces are solely a force for good?
This latest video is not an isolated event. On the contrary, it is part of a sickeningly long history of war crimes perpetrated by NATO forces since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, that is not to deny that lots of sterling work has been conducted by some of our military representatives; but that should not trigger the overlooking of the countless acts of savage, barbaric behaviour. So, before the ardent numbskulls, for there are bound to be some, take up the challenge of wilfully defending the military per se, here is a list of considerations that I urge you to treat as a template for your altogether predictable responses:
* Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs' infamous 'Kill Team' was sentenced to life imprisonment in November for indiscriminately murdering Afghan civilians; something the judge described as hunting down innocent Afghans "for sport". The soldiers - or monsters, to give them their full and proper title - admitted to slicing off the body parts of Afghans and keeping them as trophies. Mr Gibbs may be released in 10 years time so that he can reunite with his son; lucky child. With role models like that, who needs villains?
* The Abu Ghraib fiasco. Where does one start when describing the atrocities carried out, in our name, at this repugnant prison in Baghdad? Rape, torture, sodomy, humiliation, beatings; the list goes on. Tales of teenagers being subjected to sexual abuse, prisoners forced to eat from toilets and detainees made to bark have been rife. What requires serious deliberation is the fact that not all these detainees had committed crimes; many of them were innocent, harmless civilians. Worse still, in the words of one former Brigadier General in-charge of Abu Ghraib until early 2004: "Rumsfeld authorised these specific techniques".
* Widespread prisoner abuse has been rampant throughout both Iraq and Afghanistan. Only this month, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the US hand over all detainees to Afghan custody following reports of serious abuses being orchestrated by American soldiers. Strip searches and light deprivation techniques are said to have been used regularly; war crimes and human rights violations by anyone's standards.
The three examples outlined above demonstrate clearly how immoral the armed forces can be; and have been. However, let me spare my fellow Brits from having to beat their nationalistic chest, they are all case studies involving American military personnel. Fear not, the British will be getting it from both barrels shortly. Nevertheless, the argument that just because these examples involve US forces and, therefore, the British military are exempt from criticism is laughable. As allies, an illegal act from either nation reflects badly on all. But, as promised, here are the considerations for you British deniers:
* The tragic death of Baha Mousa will forever stain the reputation of our 'brave boys'. "Systematic abuse" and "unacceptable violence" was the verdict following an inquiry into the goings-on at a British detention centre in southern Iraq. Baha Mousa was a hotel receptionist. He offered no threat to the armed soldiers - or, for that matter, the country for which they were supposedly serving - yet was on the receiving end of severe beatings; resulting in 93 separate injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose.
* In December it was unearthed that a British soldier serving in Afghanistan had been dismissed from the army for bayoneting an innocent 10-year-old child. He was said to be suffering from "a hangover after a heavy vodka drinking session". What was the provocation for such a ferocious attack? The boy, running an errand, merely asked for some chocolate. How about that for democracy spreading?
* Let us not forget Bloody Sunday. The Bloody Sunday inquiry stated that "none of the casualties shot by soldiers was armed". With regards to the British army, the report asserts: "Many of these soldiers have knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing".
One incident can be explained; two can be excused. But when the evidence begins to stack up, it is our duty to start asking probing, uncomfortable questions. Shame should weigh heavily on the shoulders of those who choose to defend, or ignore, our military's shameful acts. How many tragic incidents do you write off as mistakes before you accept, albeit begrudgingly, that there is an institutional problem manifesting within our armed forces?