Hardly a day goes by, says Phil Shiner, without him or someone who works for him receiving abuse or worse.
Is he an estate agent? A cop? A traffic warden?
He’s a Catholic, a committed socialist, who believes passionately in social justice. Those are his guides.
Shiner, 57, is the Birmingham-based lawyer who is the scourge of the British Army, bringing case after case alleging brutality against Iraqi and Afghan prisoners.
Along the way, Shiner and his Public Interest Lawyers firm have earned the hatred of former and serving soldiers and their flag-bearers, including sections of the media.
Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail accused Shiner of milking the legal-aid system, earning millions from the public purse to fund his cause: “Shiner is always on the lookout for a jihadist with a grievance which can be used to discredit the Army and win some hard cash.”
But this is unfair, he protests, he’s a knight on a white horse, and if this is costing millions, well, it’s the dragon’s fault for resisting!
It would be far better, he says, if the MoD ceased resisting at every turn. “The MoD needs to stop, accept it and grow up. They’ve been rumbled, they’ve got it wrong. This wasn’t one-off behaviour, it was systemic and they know it.”
He seems to want the Army to become – literally, not figuratively – the World’s Policeman:
His “ultimate goal”, Shiner says, is to achieve “reform of our armed-services personnel so it never happens again. We need to train soldiers and interrogators properly, train them in the basic elements of law.”
He can’t see why the Army can’t be like the police. “If you join the police and you patrol the streets you need to know what the law is. That doesn’t happen in the Army – they’re not taught it.”
He sticks with the police comparison. “It’s very simple: why do we need interrogators to do disrespectful things to people? We don’t. A skilled police questioner knows, when a child has gone missing, if the person in front of them knows where he or she is. They can tell. They know if they’ve got the right person. And they’ve done that without doing anything disrespectful.”
I think he’s endowing police detectives with almost supernatural powers, there…
There is such a thing, I venture, as the “fog of war” . His answer is mocking. “People who say that don’t know what they’re talking about. Iraq wasn’t a war – the fighting lasted just five weeks. After that, we were an occupying power. Afghanistan was not a war. It was a United Nations operation to assist the government there to restore peace to the region.”
Our bad behaviour, he says, has done us harm: “Look at us. We’re supposed to be a democratic nation, a great democratic state that abides by the rule of law. Now countries can turn around and say, ‘No you don’t – you’re not better than us.’
No, quite right, we sexually humiliate a few wrong ‘uns for vital information, they slaughter indiscriminately and crucify people.
How could we possibly think we were better..?
The blame, he believes, lies with our inability to confront our colonial past, to realise our empire has gone, and that when we had the empire, we did some terrible things.
“Nobody has ever made the British public face what their armed forces did in the Second World War and the colonial wars since,” he says. “Germany was divided into four, made to eat humble pie, and national monuments were built commemorating their atrocities. What have we ever done? Nothing.”
Nothing, that is, except tolerate the likes of you making a tidy living and getting fawning left-wing media puff-pieces written about you…