It ought to be comforting to the American people, in an odd sort of way, to realize that when it comes to idiotic politicians and bureaucrats, self-serving senior flag officers, and agenda-driven anti-nationalists, we aren’t standing alone in the world. Somehow, though, this is not at all reassuring —it’s downright worrisome. Like our own government, the United Kingdom decided to send its young men off to war. These well-trained warriors did their jobs and completed their missions and were officially recognized for their performance above and beyond the call of duty. But then the British government publicly called into question their honor and their courage on the field of battle.
What kind of people are we?
(Then) Lance Corporal Brian Wood, British Army, 1stBattalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, was called in to reinforce an insurgency attack directed against a combat patrol of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders near a checkpoint known as “Danny Boy.” The incident took place near Majar al-Kabir on 14 May 2004. It was one of the most ferocious engagements involving British forces in Iraq; it involved close-quarter combat against a larger force of the so-called Mahdi Army fighting to the death.
In the post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, British forces were sent there to act as peacekeepers. They were in Iraq to demonstrate solidarity with the western world, to win the hearts and minds of the local people, the goal of which was to help reconstruct the nation after the Iraq War. This, quite naturally, was all political rubbish. If these peacekeepers accomplished anything at all, they became the targets of a ruthless insurgency. American and British forces were routinely sniped at, mortared, and attacked by armed extremists who were being cleverly manipulated by Moqtada al-Sadr. In this initial stage, and for the sake of brevity, we can call peacekeeping what it was: standing around looking stupid while senior military leaders figured out what was going on. Meanwhile, combat soldiers suffered the around-the-clock rocket and mortar fire,
When the leaders of these coalition forces finally decided that enough was enough, they planned several operations intending to confront the Mahdi army, locate and arrest key leaders, bomb-makers, and those who had no hesitation in sending children wrapped in explosives toward coalition camps.
14 May began with the usual rocket attack of the British position at Abu Naji. The command ordered Corporal Wood and his men into the Warrior fighting vehicle; his mission: discover the location of insurgent (enemy) mortar positions. While on patrol, the Wood’s unit was redirected to reinforce elements of the Argyll Sutherland Highland, a platoon being ambushed near checkpoint Danny Boy. As they sped to reinforce the beleaguered unit, vehicle commander Sergeant Broome provided Wood and his team with constant updates on the situation. Wood and his men, sitting in the rear compartment, had no way of observing the vehicle’s surroundings.
Suddenly, the Warrior began to receive overwhelming small-arms fire. The vehicle commander hit the brakes and the gunner began delivering return fire. Wood and his men were completely in the dark as to what was happening outside the vehicle. Broome evaluated the situation: there were ten to fifteen insurgents dug in some 125 yards from the highway directing fire at the Warrior. Entrenched, the firepower generated by the vehicle’s gunner is having no effect on the insurgent’s position. Broome ordered Wood and his men to dismount. Wood said to his men, “prepare for a close-quarter assault.” Wood informed his sergeant they were ready to go. Broome replied, “On my mark … there’s a gully to the left, go for that, I’ll provide covering fire.” On the count of three, Wood and his men exited the vehicle.
Woods (shown right, Royal Army photo) could see the enemy, well entrenched, their heads bobbing up and down as they fired the weapons and then took cover. Wood realized immediately that his radio wasn’t working; there was no way to receive any further instructions from Broome. He decided to attack the insurgents “hard and fast.” His team of five scrambled out of the gully in team formation, running a zig-zag pattern across the open ground, stopping, kneeling, returning fire, advancing in a leap-frog pattern. Enemy bullets whipped around them. It was a demonstration of pure courage … and hope.
As the British team reached the trench, the insurgents seemed surprised. What kind of crazy men were these to attack their well-manned and fortified position? Some of the insurgents began an immediate withdrawal. Some threw down their weapons and raised their hands. The Brits jumped into the trench, suddenly faced with dead bodies, prisoners, loosed weapons, shouting, and overhead fire. The adrenalin was pumping. Wood ordered those with their hands in the air to get on the ground; he ordered his men to ceasefire. One insurgent was acting “jumpy,” as if he was getting ready to do something stupid, and the British team was still receiving fire from the withdrawn insurgents; they’d taken up a new position further back. Wood grabbed Abu-Jumpy and threw him to the ground —for that man’s own protection, and his own. He tied his hands with plastic cuffs, at the same time ordering his men to collect the enemy’s weapons and safe them.
Wood and his team were quickly augmented with reinforcements: two additional Warriors and a couple of battle tanks. Sergeant Major Dave Falconer made his presence known. “Is the battlefield clear?” It wasn’t clear. Falconer ordered a clearing patrol, directing Wood to lead him in the direction of the withdrawing insurgents. The two of them had just set off when an insurgent popped up and began firing at them. Falconer dispatched him. Another fighter stood up —but not for long before Wood shot him. Two more Iraqis stood up, but they had their hands in the air. Wood recognized one of these men: an Iraqi policeman who had been working with the British forces. Apparently, he’d switched sides. It was a common occurrence among the Iraqis. None of these people could be trusted. Out of plastic cuffs, Wood and Falconer frog-walked these two men back to the British line.
The ordeal wasn’t over. Falconer ordered Wood and his men to collect the bodies. It was a gruesome task and having to do these kinds of things are part of what causes combat veterans to have bad dreams. The smell of death lingers for a lifetime. In any case, a few days after the battle, military police conducted an inquiry of what had happened on the morning of 14 May. Wood and his men made their statements. As far as he was concerned, the issue was history. In time, Wood rotated back home with his unit.
A few months later, while undergoing additional training, a couple of men from the special investigations branch appeared. They wanted to ask Corporal Wood a few more questions. A few things needed clarification, they said. They showed him some pictures of dead Iraqis and asked him to identify them. It isn’t pleasant having to look at pictures of dead men, particularly men who’ve been killed in combat. Wood didn’t recognize any of these men. The interview lasted more than an hour.
Time progressed and Wood was notified that he was being awarded the Military Cross . He received his medal from Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth. It was an honor for Wood to have been so recognized. Her Majesty was kind toward Wood and offered him her thanks and appreciation for his service.
In 2009, Wood learned of the so-called Al-Sweady investigation. It had been five years since the Battle of Danny Boy. The investigation had been initiated by a civil rights attorney named Phil Shiner (shown right, photo from the public domain). A number of soldiers had been accused of assault, along with inhumane treatment of detainees. One of these soldiers copped a plea and served one year in prison. As a result of one man admitting inappropriate conduct, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) paid out £3-million to the aggrieved Iraqis for “substantive breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights.” The admission also led the liberal press to assume that human rights violations were prevalent within the British forces. A witch-hunt was started. The Battle of Danny Boy resurfaced.
A group of six Iraqis and the uncle of Hamid al-Sweady, one of those killed at Danny Boy, claimed that they had been ill-treated by British forces in the aftermath of the battle. They claimed to be innocent bystanders, simple farmers who were not part of the insurgency. They were simply caught up in the crossfire. They also claimed that the fighters who had been captured had been murdered in cold blood by the British troopers. The MoD dismissed these allegations, but Solicitor Shiner persisted with his claims. He suggested to the press that as many as 20 Iraqis had been murdered by British forces. In November 2009, it was announced that a public inquiry would be held to look into these claims.
Colour Sergeant  Wood was called to give evidence in 2013 … nine years later. It wasn’t a trial; it was a public inquiry, but Wood was still placed in the dock and questioned by the attorneys representing the Iraqi complainers. Wood thought the whole show was ridiculous—and indeed, it was. Lacking any familiarity with military training or front line experience, the attorneys did not even know what questions to ask, and so they focused on the idiotic. It was a fishing expedition: they wanted to know how long the firefight lasted, they asked Wood whether he went to the right or left when he exited the Warrior, and they wanted to know “how tightly” the plastic cuffs were placed on the Iraqi prisoners. Was it true that Wood had denied a prisoner a drink of water? Wood asked himself, “Why are we even discussing this?”
Wood gave his evidence and retired from the courtroom. The result of the inquiry wasn’t announced for another nine months. Meanwhile, Wood wondered what might happen next. He’d not done anything wrong, so why was he now being made to suffer the stress of these unsubstantiated accusations? And the liberal British press was having a field day. One might think that Wood was the reincarnated Jack the Ripper.
On 17 December 2014, the final report summed up 189-days of testimony from 55 Iraqi witnesses and 222 British servicemen. There were 328 statements from additional witnesses. The final report consisted of more than 1,200 pages. What were the findings? “The vast majority of allegations made against British military were wholly and entirely without merit or foundation. Very many of those baseless allegations were the product of deliberate and calculated lies on the part of those who made them, and who then gave evidence to this inquiry in order to support and perpetuate them. Other false allegations were the result of inappropriate and reckless speculation on the part of witnesses. The evidence clearly showed that the British soldiers responded to this deadly ambush with exemplary courage, resolution, and professionalism.”
The inquiry cost the British taxpayer £31 million. The firm called Public Interest Lawyers and Leigh Day, a second law firm involved in cases against British troops were referred to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. In August 2016 Public Interest Lawyers went out of business, while the British government announced it would take steps to prevent further spurious claims against Her Majesty’s troops. In December 2016, Phil Shiner was compelled to attend a hearing seated to consider the misconduct of attorneys. He admitted guilt in relation to claims of wrongdoing by Wood and his men and. The evidence against these lawyers was that they knew far in advance of the 2009 inquiry that allegations of murder and torture were false. They knew that Hamid al-Sweady was a member of the Mahdi army —and knowing this, they allowed the allegations to go forward.
Martyn Day and Phil Shiner (and others) lost their license to practice law in 2017, but it didn’t undo the years of anguish and suffering among the British troopers and their families.
Neither Day or Shiner has ever apologized to these men.
John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers.” How does the United States and the United Kingdom honor the men who serve?
It could be argued, of course, by distinguished jurists that the legal process must begin with allegations that are either substantiated or defeated in a court of law. But there is another point of view. Nations spend billions of dollars training and equipping their soldiers to fight; they spend billions more sending them into combat. Some of these men never come home. Far more are permanently injured while fighting these wars. What right do lawyers or politicians have to constantly look over the shoulders of these men, second-guessing what goes on within the space of mere seconds in lethal combat? What right do these people have to question the actions of these men in moments of adrenalin, fear, and their quest for survival? More to the point, what right do they have in accepting the testimony of known liars  (the insurgents) over the word of the men who fought against them?
Presently, in the United States, another warrior is facing life in prison owing to allegations of war crimes. According to the New York Times, decorated Navy SEAL, Special Operations Chief Ed Gallagher (Shown right, photo from public domain) has been charged with indiscriminately shooting at civilians, premeditated murder of a “teenage ” ISIS fighter, obstruction of justice, and bringing discredit upon the armed forces by posing in a picture next to the body of aforementioned teenager.
Ed Gallagher has achieved 19 years of honorable service. He is a trained hospital corpsman and a sniper. He is the recipient of his country’s third highest combat decoration, the Silver Star. Now, aged 39, Gallagher is facing life in prison. He isn’t the first combat soldier or sailor to face such accusations.
Chief Gallagher denies all charges. I hope he has a good defense team; he’ll need one, because there are other Navy chiefs who are lined up to testify against him, now claiming that he was blood-thirsty, reckless, and out of control. But one has to wonder, if these characterizations are true, then why didn’t his officers in charge and senior enlisted supervisors take action to remove him from the combat force? Why wasn’t he referred to medical authorities for a proper psychiatric evaluation?
We cannot now know what actually happened in Gallagher’s case. This is why we have courts of inquiry and, when necessary, formal court-martial proceedings. And yet, here we are, once more examining a situation in which governments send their young men into battle, and have the audacity to question them about what actually happened in the heat of combat. Last week, we learned about the plight of Major Fred Galvin and the Marines of Fox Company, MARSOC-7. In Galvin’s case, the exalted leadership didn’t have his back, and the British government sure didn’t support Brian Wood and twenty others who were falsely accused. Now we are witness to another set of allegations unfolding in the liberal press.
The British and Americans have a long history of the warrior ethos. Whenever called upon, young men from these two countries have always stepped up —twice against one another. But despite this proud history, I have to wonder how much longer anyone, in either country, with any common sense at all, will willingly place themselves in harm’s way if all they can ever expect is punishment for doing what their governments paid them to do —which, for the record, is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver.
- Wood, B. Double Crossed. Virgin Books, London, 2019
- “Decorated Navy Seal is Accused of War Crimes in Iraq,” Dave Phillips, The New York Times, 15 November 2018
- “Lawyers in Foxholes,” Vassar Bushmills (vassarbushmills.com)
 The Military Cross (MC) is awarded to all ranks of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, and Royal Air Force in recognition of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land. It is an ornamental cross in silver, with straight arms terminating in broad finals decorated with the Imperial Crown. The Queen does not usually present this decoration but may do so at her pleasure, which she did on this occasion.
 In the British Army, a colour sergeant ranks above sergeant and just below warrant officer.
 The age, sex, socio-economic status, level of education, or the worthiness of his or her parents do not matter when someone is trying to kill you. It is either kill the enemy or be killed by the enemy. Choose wisely.