Sunday, April 08, 2007

Jack Jacobs Dead Wrong About British Captives' Behavior

Also at DKos.

Sometimes it pays not to play Rambo.

Several voices in the media have been critical of the conduct of the recently released British service members captured by Iran. Among those critics is retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, MSNBC military analyst and Congressional Medal of Honor Winner.

On Friday, Jacobs castigated the British sailors and marines for allowing themselves to be captured without putting up a fight, and for cooperating with Iranian propaganda efforts.

I'm very glad Jack Jacobs wasn't with that British boarding party.

Pavlov's Dogs of War

Right wing blog NewsBusters provides a partial transcript and a video of one of Jacobs's Friday interviews:
I don't know where to begin, I've gotta tell you, that was the most disgusting, disreputable, dishonorable performance I can remember in more than forty years of my relationship with the military service. I think every man, every woman who wears the uniform, or who has ever worn the uniform of his country, no matter what country it is, ought to be disgusted by this… And I can tell you that my feelings are almost undoubtedly echoed by everyone I know who's worn the uniform.

Well, no, Colonel. Some of us think that the British sailors and marines played the situation as smartly as it could have been played by anyone.

At a press conference with six members of the recently released boarding party on Friday, Royal Marine Captain Chris Air said, "Let me be absolutely clear: From the outset, it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option… We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who, it is our impression, came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner."

The "heavily armed force," according to Air, consisted of eight Revolutionary Guard speedboats armed with heavy machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. "We realized that had we resisted, there would have been a major fight, one we could not have won with consequences that would have had major strategic impact." (Italics added.)

Bingo. By committing themselves to a battle that would have led to their certain slaughter, the British boarding party would have created a far more shocking international incident than the one that actually occurred. Mr. Bush might have used such an incident to justify a full scale naval and air strike on Iran.

As to the "confessions" that they were in Iranian waters, Royal Navy Lieutenant Felix Carmen said "We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options. ... If we admitted we had strayed, we would be on a plane back to the U.K. soon. If we didn't, we faced up to seven years in prison." He also said "At all times, if you listen carefully to what we said, we always used words like 'apparently' or 'we were perceived' or 'according to this evidence.' At no time did we actually say, 'We apologize for intruding in Iranian waters.' At all times, we stuck to our guns, and we were conducting our operations legally."

And it's obvious to anyone familiar with prisoner of war resistance techniques that the sailors and marines who made taped statements were sending clear verbal and physical cues that they were speaking under duress.

The 15 British sailors and marines are home safe now. Thanks to the level headed thinking of a small team of junior British troops, led by a Royal Marine captain and a Royal Navy lieutenant, they did not turn into a cause for war by getting themselves killed in a hopeless battle, nor did they make themselves into a critical vulnerability by becoming long-term hostages.

With all due (and well deserved) respect to Colonel Jacobs and his magnificent service record, he displays the classic symptoms of the Pavlov's Dogs of War syndrome. Like many U.S. military officers of his generation, he can think analytically about military and foreign policy issues, but only up to a certain level. At some point, his cognitive processes short circuit and migrate from the head on his neck to somewhere below his belt.

In a written commentary, Jacobs wrote "one can recall few instances in recent memory in which a group of uniformed service members acted with less professionalism and more dishonor."

Jacobs seems to have forgotten the laundry list of scandalous behavior by U.S. troops in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. Guys like Jacobs have selective memories when it comes to grinding their pet axes.

Jacobs quoted the part of the U.S. Military Code of Conduct that says: "I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist," and added "By contrast, these British geniuses surrendered without a shot being fired in their own defense."

These "British geniuses" were trapped in rigid rafts and armed with relatively small caliber side arms, and were surrounded by superior numbers of speedboats equipped with significantly superior firepower. They did not have the "means to resist." Nothing in the U.S. Code of Conduct or Standing Rules of Engagement requires an individual or a commander to commit certain suicide, and surrendering in the face of hopeless circumstances is hardly an act of "free will." The way Jacobs frames things, all fighting men and women who allowed themselves to become prisoners of war are cowards. One has to wonder how the survivors of the Baatan Death March or the Hanoi Hilton like being marked with that label.

In print and on air, Jacobs inferred that U.S. troops taken captive are sworn to only give their names, ranks, serial numbers and dates of birth. As a graduate of the U.S. Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training, I can assure you that is not true. For hopefully obvious reasons, I won't go into details of what SERE teaches about resistance techniques, but from everything I've heard and read, the British captives were isolated from each other (contrary to Jacobs's assertions that they weren't) and the threat of seven years imprisonment if they didn't confess to having been operating in Iranian waters was an entirely credible.

The Brits had no hope of escape. Even if, unarmed and unequipped, they managed to slip their captors, they never would have made it out of Iran. They had no hope of rescue either. As good as the British Special Air Service commando force is, it couldn't possibly have snatched them from captivity deep inside of Iran. The captives' only hope was to seek release, and the best way to achieve that was to make the non-confessional confessions they made. As far as we can tell, they didn't give up any vital operational details or strategic intentions information that might have presented a security breach.

Jack Jacobs referred to Royal Marine Captain Chris Air as a "meathead," but the biggest meathead in this scenario is Jack Jacobs. Captain Air appears to be a modern warrior who understands the strategic consequences of tactical actions. Jacobs is an old soldier who thinks we're still fighting World War II, the kind of warrior who still thinks that "brave" and "smart" are mutually exclusive virtues, and who likes to hide his lack of intellectual integrity behind his combat decorations.

Note to MSNBC: it's time for Jacobs to fade away.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous5:48 PM

    may your god bless you, ex HM Forces

  2. Bacon's Rebellion7:17 PM


    As I indicated in an earlier post on the same subject I think that resistance from the relative handful of Royal Marines would have been futile and probably fatal for most if not all of that small boarding party. I heard the statements made by former Army Colonel Jacobs and to me it was evident that he really did not have a clear understanding of the situation that had occurred. That said, I still have very great reservations about the conduct of those who made written or televised statements as demanded by their Iranian captors. In particular the accommodating tone set by Captain Air, R.M. and groveling remarks by Lieutenant Carmen, R.N. made me cringe. These are no "Cockleshell Heroes" to be sure and are what would be known in the parlance of the Royal Marines' mess as a pair of "Ruperts". They certainly managed to save their own skins but the long term repercussions of this will probably cost other sailors and Marines on the same sort of duty dearly. If you act like a weak sister in the Middle East you will be exploited at every opportunity. Unfortunately now the Royal Navy and Royal Marines will be seen as easy marks. The next time the Iranians want to shove somebody around to generate a little propaganda guess who it is likely to be.

    It is worthy of note that two of the enlisted Royal Marines did not puke up statements for the Iranians. They at least they are worthy of wearing the "Globe & Laurel" unlike their officer, Captain Air.

    However, the real culprits here are PM Blair, Parliament, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the Admiralty and the entire chain of command that sent this boarding party into harm's way and then did absolutely nothing to support them once they were menaced by a superior force from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy. Clearly this had to have an impact on the thinking and consequent conduct of all those sailors and Marines. This set up a scenario where weak leaders like the two officers involved would be put to the test and unfortunately fail.

    Perhaps this is why Captain Air had been detailed to leading boarding parties rather than being given a company in one of the Royal Marine Commandos fighting in Afghanistan. He just doesn't pack the gear. Sadly since the MOD has now decided to let these people sell the story of their brief captivity they will profit financially from conduct that should have earned them a court martial. All that Blair and his government want to do at this point is spin this disgrace in any way that they can in order to make it seem like something other than what it is. While a knighthood is probably out of the question for either of the two officers medals may yet be in order. Perhaps a promotion and a nice safe staff billet as a "keyboard commando" over at the Admiralty tracking the results of boarding party searches. I hear the strains of Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS PINAFORE" echoing faintly already.

    Note to Captain Air: Stock up on plenty of brass polish for that big front door.

  3. BR,

    Uhm, Norman Schartzkopf's IT DOESNT TAKE A HERO wasnt an exploitation on his military expreience? And just how much danger was Blackhead in during Desert Storm?

  4. Commander Huber, As a former Captain USMC I agree with you. People like Col. Jacobs have a knee jerk macho that has nothing to do with military reality. I am about the same age as Jacobs and I have seen enough of these John Wayne wanna be's sacrifice the men under their command to build their own image. Often they don't survive themselves but when they do they become like Jacobs.

  5. EdNSted10:04 PM


    Thanks, I was hoping to get your take on this issue. My first thought when I heard the talking heads pontificating was "wait a sec - didn't those soldiers just avoid making a bad situation far worse?". As for the videos they made while they were in captivity, no one is going to take them for anything more than what they were - propaganda films made under duress. Frankly, I think the Iranians shot themselves in the foot with that move.

    Now I admit that I have no military experience to base my opinions on but as a citizen of the U.S., I'd certainly prefer my country's military to be filled with highly skilled and intelligent people who can analyze difficult situations quickly and determine the best course action rather people who insisted on committing suicide at the slightest provocation so that pundits who sit bravely behind their keyboards can use those deaths to justify their agendas.

    I'm just sayin...


  6. Bacon's Rebellion1:16 AM


    I've never read General Schwarzkopf's book so I cannot comment on it. While Schwarzkopf may have been a bit bombastic he was at least entertaining in his dealing with the congenital idiots who seem to comprise the bulk of the press and the media. I certainly did enjoy listening to him jerk some of them around. His press briefings always provided a lot of amusement in that regard. Something that at the time was long overdue. In retrospect he was probably the best man for the task of ridiculing the absurdly ignorant questions of the 4th estate. Which admittedly has little to do with his qualities as a general officer or a leader.

    As far as I can determine "Storming Norman" was never in much danger during "Desert Storm" (nor was anyone else in the headquarters area as you might expect) but I'm puzzled as to how that relates to my comments regarding the conduct of Captain Air et al. My point was not that Captain Air was not in danger as I presume he was. I would not be surprised to learn that either his ROE, standing orders or specific instructions for that area/duty required him to act as he did. It is entirely possible, under the circumstances he faced, that he may have even received direct orders via radio to stack arms and surrender his men. My problem with Air and the naval officer who was accompanying the boarding party is the speed with which they caved in to the demands of the Iranians and the rather blasé and cavalier attitude that they displayed throughout the entire process.

    This is simply not the kind of example that you want to set for your troops. In fact at least two enlisted Marines refused to make statements Iranian threats notwithstanding. British Royal Marines like their American counterparts have always been very jealous of their reputations. Reputations which were earned with a great deal of blood and sacrifice in many wars over more than two centuries. Both corps hate like all bloody hell to see their reputations sullied by some puke like Captain Air, who simply doesn't measure up to the standards of leadership or the responsibilities demanded of an officer of Marines.

    Judging from some of the comments I've seen over the past few days those are not values shared or even remotely understood by most civilians. That is not a new problem. In fact it is a very old problem but one which seems to have gotten progressively worse in recent years. In this case they see no further than the fact that no one was killed or wounded and that all hands were returned home safely. That other seamen and Marines in the future will pay a price in blood for this sort of craven behavior just fails to register. Most Marines know better.

    I have no doubt that a lot of Royal Marines and Royal Navy tars are presently spinning in their graves after this dismal affair.

    Semper Fidelis
    Per Mare Per Terram

  7. As a survivor of the late unpleasantness in SE Asia I'd like to mention that NOTHING terrifies the EM more than "death or glory" jocks like Jack Jacobs. They are predisposed to take vainglorious and unnecessary risks. I'm not implying that's how he earned the MOH; hardly anyone goes out looking for that one. But I've seen a few officers that felt they had to make their career in their six months of field duty and they risked lives needlessly. Contrarily, older retired officers should probably not stop off at a tap for a few pops before appearing on national TV.

  8. WHat y`all are missing is that the british were following standing procedure for a *peace-keeping* mission as opposed to a War mission. The UK is NOT at war with the Iranian republic, and has no policy of wanting to be in one either. The british are out of area, the Iranians are in-area. That means that british forces subjugate their wills to Iranian wills to a far greater extent than they expect vice versa. As someone pointed out over on, they were detained , not captured.

    That the US sees the unwillingness to kill everything in sight to save Private Ryan as a cowardly reaction says quite a bit about just how Gung Ho the US forces are these days. That the right complains about their treatment is just plain stupid.

  9. Oh, and bacons rebellion: The socalled "confessions" came after the foreign department had been given acess to the sailors. I think you can safely assume that the "confessions" were made in accordance with policymakers. But yes, it makes one wonder how long our guys and girls would stand the treatment we give to our prisoners... (God, I have a dream about a public waterboarding og Bush, Blair and Cheney. Not a nice dream, but a dream nevertheless. To see their legs kicking in the air...)

    Check out the latest Tedrall comic at, btw, Grimly funny.

  10. Steviet7:55 AM

    As a serving member of the RN I would like to thank you for your well thought out and inciteful comments on this subject. You have gone a long way to restoring my faith in our American friends and allies.

  11. Jeff, having graduated from the USAF equivalent of SERE back in the day, I agree with your assessment. Even COL Jacobs could be made to perform as desired.

  12. Thanks Jeff for your comments. I also got to experience SERE and I was very impressed with how the Brits handled themselves in what was a very volatile situation. MK's comments are likewise necessary to put this whole thing into perspective. In these situations I always remember the instructions of my CO way back when in regards to capture. "You aren't any good to me dead or wounded or imprisoned forever. Do what you have to do to survive and hasten your return to your unit." As Lurch said people like Jacobs are an enlisted man's worst nightmare.

  13. Anonymous3:44 PM

    the US is just pissed because this "incident" (caused by the US's clumsy and unsuccessful attempt to kidnap two Inranian security officers) was supposed to furnish the excuse for WW III, brought to you by GE, bringin GOOD things to life, like death.

    Boo hoo, the Brits resolved the incident peacefully instead of overreacting and starting a conflagration that surely will jeapordize 3/4 of the world's population if ever unleashed.

    But the warmongering assholes of the USA won't stop until they have comletely destroyed the world in "the big fire"

  14. Thanks to all, once again, for the lively discussion.



  15. Well said. I fear for our soldiers in future wars as the Bush/Cheney admin has taken the US out of the Geneva Convention.

  16. Me thinks Colonel Jacobs would get many soldiers killed in battle.

    Great post Jeff!

  17. EdNSted12:22 PM


    Have you seen this...

    3 Generals Spurn the Position of War 'Czar'

    "At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

    "The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

  18. Ed,

    Thanks a million for the link.

  19. I'd follow Colonel Jacobs, but only out of curiosity.

  20. BG,

    I'm still laughing at that one. Well done!



  21. Anonymous6:43 AM


    Thank you for a well-reasoned and beautifully phrased piece. I am a currently serving member of HM Forces, hence the cloak of annonimity, but I know you comments have been well recieved by the Royal Navy.

  22. I don't know what's going through the Colonel's head, but I certainly disagree. Having been a boarding officer in that part of the world, 2 zodiacs against 4+ patrol boats with crew-served weapons is a loser any way you slice it.

    The person that has the hardest questions to answer in my mind is the captain of HMS Cornwall. What was he thinking letting his boarding party get outside the max effective range of his guns?

  23. Anonymous,

    Thanks for passing along the nice words.


    Yeah, my biggest question has been just what you mentioned. I've avoided speculation about the skipper's possible malfeasance because I can think of several scenarios in which things wouldn't have been his fault.

    Lots of holes left in this story.

  24. Oak Leaf11:50 PM


    I wrote some similar comments at a right wing blog and they were not "well received."

    On the other hand, the reasoning that you had was well received by the Staff College students that I now teach.

    Your writing is indeed a breath of fresh air. I am trying to bring some sense to the right side of the blogosphere but sadly think I am failing.

    My best,

    Oak Leaf

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