- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

LONDON — Fellow servicemen and women have turned their fury on the British sailors and marines who sold the stories of their 13 days in captivity in Iran, saying the crew had “embarrassed the nation” and in lining their own pockets had “trampled on the graves of the fallen.”

The 14 men and one woman of the frigate HMS Cornwall were criticized heavily on military Internet chat rooms and in a series of postings on two unofficial military Web sites, Rum Ration (www.rumration.co.uk) and British Army Rumour Service (www.arrse.co.uk).

All 15 have come under fire over their filmed activities during captivity, including seemingly carefree scenes of them clad in tracksuits and playing chess and table tennis or watching a soccer match on television — in sharp contrast to the stories of anguish, threats and maltreatment that they told after they were freed.

But the heaviest flak was aimed at Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the only woman in the group, for having pocketed a reported $117,000 payoff for her story, and Seaman Arthur Batchelor, at 20 the youngest of the 15, who complained that he was paid “less than a tenth” of Seaman Turney’s fee. That, he said, was not even enough to buy a car.

“It is simply shocking,” fumed one critic on the Rum Ration site. “Get captured (i.e., don’t do your job right) and you make 5 times the average sailor’s salary in one story.”

Another said that “in the same week as we lost 6 of our soldiers in Iraq, for these people to be given permission to line their pockets is disgusting.”

Yet another said all 15 “have embarrassed the nation, the forces and themselves. They are a disgrace to the uniforms they wear and should leave.”

A poll on the Rum Ration Web site, which is frequented by both active and retired military personnel, said 92 percent of its contributors agreed that Seaman Batchelor was “wrong to sell his story.”

In an interview he sold to London’s Daily Mirror newspaper, Seaman Batchelor said, “I’m really hurt by all the criticism. … The money I received will simply pay for a few driving lessons. I’m not sure it will cover the cost of an actual test, let alone a car.”

The young seaman complained that during his capture, the Iranians stole his IPod and he conceded that he had cried himself to sleep after his captors nicknamed him “Mr. Bean,” a comically nerdish figure in British entertainment. To his dismay, his critics back home have now eagerly seized on it.

“It’s perfectly fair to criticize Mr. Bean,” said one Rum Ration contributor. “Not for being unattractive … but for being a complete numpty wimp who blubbed [cried] when they took his iPod, blubbed when they flicked the back of his neck, blubbed when they called him Mr. Bean and asked Faye for a big huggy-wuggy when they met up.”

Another suggested on the British Army Rumour Service site that “Mr. Bean will be known as that for the rest of his life, so I hope the cash was worth it.”

Still another angry contributor wrote that the 15 crew members “should be expelled from the armed forces” and that their mother ship, HMS Cornwall, “could make a series like ‘The Loveboat’ or be used for [the television reality show] ‘Big Brother,’ ” because “the Royal Navy seems intent on becoming a complete laughing-stock.”

As for Seaman Turney, who sold her version of events to the Sun newspaper in London and to a news commentary program on Britain’s ITV television channel, “irrespective of whatever she does,” wrote one critic, “this will hang around her neck like the proverbial albatross for a long time yet to come.”

A British Broadcasting Corp. report quoted Seaman Turney as saying, “I was offered a hell of a lot of money for my story” — nearly $200,000, by one account — but “I have not taken the biggest offer. I’ve gone down … because I wanted to speak to [the British public] and the Sun because I knew my point would be put across.”

Neither her pleas nor those of Seaman Batchelor did much to assuage their critics.

From the time of their capture in disputed waters off the Iran-Iraq coast, said one, the 15 “have dishonored themselves and trampled on the graves of the fallen with their selfish actions.”

Gary Davies of Girton, England, who spent 12 years in the military and whose son recently completed a tour of army duty in Iraq, said in a letter to the Daily Mail newspaper: “To sell a story like a mercenary is diabolical and sullies the memories of those who did not come back alive.”

Yesterday, the bodies of four British soldiers, who were killed in Iraq the same day the 15 sailors and marines of HMS Cornwall were released, were flown home to Britain in coffins.

Their return was headlined on the London Evening Standard newspaper’s Web site: “The dead soldiers who WON’T be selling their stories.”

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