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Thursday, October 28, 2010 

Scum-watch: How to take advantage of a parliamentary misunderstanding.

We all know how dearly the Sun loves "Our Boys", even if the feeling is not necessarily mutual. It's therefore hardly surprising that it's instantly leapt to their defence, having apparently been accused by Labour MP Paul Flynn of committing "atrocities in the name of the British people". The problem is that almost every single thing about the report by Tom Newton Dunn in which the claim is made, and the leader comment which accompanies it, is wrong.

WIKILEAKS and a Labour MP were accused of giving the Taliban "a propaganda gift" yesterday by spreading wild smears about Our Boys.

Foreign Secretary William Hague mounted a passionate defence of troops in southern Afghanistan after reports were leaked to the website saying British soldiers had shot at civilians 21 times in four years.

Despite what the Sun says, there has been no new leak to Wikileaks concerning British troops and their presence in Afghanistan. The reports it refers to have in fact been released by, err, the Ministry of Defence themselves, after a Guardian Freedom of Information request based on the incidents first detailed in the US war logs leaked to Wikileaks. Far from being wild smears, these are the MoD's version of what happened; surely the army's own account is more believable and reliable than the second hand one which the US recorded?

The MoD said on each occasion the troops were under grave threat of suicide attack or vehicles being driven at them had failed to stop.

Despite this, anti-war Labour MP Paul Flynn jumped on the statistic to brand the incidents "atrocities".

Mr Hague hit back: "I condemn the unauthorised release of information which can endanger our forces and give one-sided propaganda - a propaganda gift, for insurgents."

He also hailed British troops, saying: "They are the finest any nation could hope to have."

Flynn, as you might have guessed, has done nothing of the sort. The Sun has taken only a half quote and turned on its head, as the Guardian didn't provide a full one in the first place. Here's how it reported his remarks:

The Labour MP Paul Flynn called for an inquiry into the conduct of the units in what he said could be "atrocities in the name of the British people". "Truth has a cleansing function," he added.

Not perhaps the most cautious of statements to make, but also clearly not one where he was directly accusing troops of committing atrocities.

It's pretty apparent then that the statement the Sun has William Hague as making had nothing whatsoever to do with the information released by the MoD. Here's where the misunderstanding seems to have originated from. Hague's comments were made in response to a question from Tory MP Stephen Mosley after his quarterly statement to parliament on the "progress" in Afghanistan, who seems to have confused the Iraq war log release at the weekend with the FoI release reported in yesterday's Guardian:

What is the Foreign Secretary's assessment of last weekend's WikiLeaks reports, which made reference to 21 incidents in Afghanistan involving British troops?

Hague's answer was then a general condemnation and a just as inaccurate one, as he talks of the treatment of detainees, none of which applies to the 21 incidents in Afghanistan. He doesn't correct Stephen Mosley, but his stock condemnation of the release of unauthorised information suggests that he realised his mistake, even if he didn't mention Iraq. Hague's praise for British troops which the Sun quotes comes from the statement, and so has been taken entirely out of context.

Paul Flynn is not referred to anywhere in Hague's statement to the House or the debate that followed. It's clear then that Newton Dunn or someone else, despite obviously reading the report in the Guardian still failed to realise that Stephen Mosley had got the wrong end of the stick. Or did they? After all, the story's nowhere near as good if the information, rather than being leaked, came from the Ministry of Defence themselves. Why not then go along with what was said in parliament, while disingenuously attacking Flynn? This seems to be what the paper's done.

Here's the paper's leader:

AS if facing death from the Taliban wasn't enough, our Forces have to face snipers back home.

Labour MP Paul Flynn accuses Our Boys of committing "atrocities in the name of the British people".

His basis for this slur? Irresponsible and unsubstantiated internet leaks claiming British troops fired on Afghan civilians.

The Defence Ministry insists this would only ever have happened in self-defence when our soldiers came under threat of suicide attack.

Our troops have spent nine years doing their best for Afghan civilians, laying down their lives for them.

As Foreign Secretary William Hague says, these smears are a Taliban propaganda gift.

Ed Miliband should order Flynn to apologise.

The leader then simply takes the same (deliberate) inaccuracies and magnifies them again, further misquoting and taking out of context Flynn's quote, gets the source of the new information completely wrong for good measure, and then finally uses Hague's own mistake to attack the hapless Labour MP further. The only people apologising should be the Sun for conniving in a misunderstanding in parliament in order to attack an MP for quite rightly wanting a proper inquiry into what happened.

P.S. The Sun also does its usual bang up job of promoting the witterings of the friends of Anjem Choudary, this time reporting in depth Abu Izzadeen's remarks on being released from prison. It's this sentence and claim though that catches the eye:

His every word was cheered by a flock including sidekick Anjem Choudary and jailed hate cleric Abu Hamza.

Would the Sun care to explain how Abu Hamza was there cheering him on when he's currently being held at Belmarsh prison awaiting deportation to the United States, or was he allowed out for the day in able to attend? This extra detail is missing from the Daily Mail's report of Izzadeen's release, unsurprisingly.

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