Source AP ©

British servicemen released by Iran given official permission to sell their stories

The 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran for nearly two weeks have permission to sell their stories to the media, the Ministry of Defense said, citing "exceptional" interest.

The decision drew complaints from some opposition politicians Sunday who said it could tarnish the image of Britain's armed forces.

Serving service personnel are usually not allowed to enter into financial arrangements with media organizations, but exceptions are allowed, the defense ministry said in a statement.

"It was clear that the stories they had to tell were likely to have emerged via family and friends regardless of any decision the navy took," the ministry statement said.

Lt. Felix Carman, who was in charge of the crew when it was seized by Iranian forces on March 23, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that he was uninterested in making money from his time in captivity.

"My main aim is to tell the story," he said. "There's some people who might be making money, but that's an individual's decision, that's very private, but that's not something that myself or many of the others will do," he told BBC.

After their release last week, the crew members told reporters in Britain they were subjected to constant psychological pressure in detention.

In an attempt to refute that claim, Iran broadcast new video Sunday showing some of the crew playing chess and watching television during their captivity.

Some of the footage, briefly aired on Iran's state-run Arabic satellite TV channel Al-Alam, also showed crew members watching soccer on TV and eating at a long table decorated with flowers. The crew members could be heard laughing and chatting.

A newscaster said the video proved "the sailors had complete liberty during their detention, which contradicts what the sailors declared after they arrived in Britain."

At a news conference Friday, Carman said the sailors and marines were only allowed to socialize for the benefit of the Iranian media.

British media regularly pay for high-profile interviews, but the decision to allow the crew to sell their stories came under some criticism.

The opposition Conservative Party's defense spokesman, Liam Fox, said many people would feel that selling the stories was "somewhat undignified and falls below the very high standards we have come to expect from our servicemen and women."

William Hague, the party's foreign affairs spokesman, told Sky News his party would question the decision in Parliament.

Menezies Campbell, who leads the third party Liberal Democrats, told the BBC he was concerned there could be "inadvertent" leaks of sensitive information.

"And there is, of course, the very understandable feeling of the families of those who have died in Iraq as to why it should be that those who have survived should - putting it bluntly - profit in this way," he said.

The Sunday Times reported that the only woman in the group, 26-year-old Leading Seaman Faye Turney, could earn as much as $300,000 (EUR225,000) from deals with a broadcaster and a newspaper.

In all, the crew could earn as much as $490,000 (EUR366,000) between them, the paper said.

The defense ministry said it decided to give permission "in order to ensure that the navy and the MoD had sight of what they were going to say, as well as providing proper media support to the sailors and marines."

The statement said the decision was made "as a result of exceptional media interest."

The crew included seven Royal Marines, who have agreed to pool their fees and split them evenly, sending 10 percent to a military benevolent fund, both the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph said. The rest of the captured crew was made up of Royal Navy sailors, including Turney.

The sailors and marines were captured in the Persian Gulf on March 23 and freed last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called their release a gift to Britain. They began two weeks of leave with their families on Saturday.

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