Army ‘did not teach Harry to dehumanise the enemy’

EXCLUSIVE: Army did not teach Prince Harry to dehumanise the enemy, say his Sandhurst classmates after he revealed he had killed 25 Taliban

  • Harry claimed the Army taught him to dehumanise the 25 Taliban that he killed 
  • The Army said the Prince was taught dehumanising and ‘othering’ were wrong
  • Officer cadets say they were warned such cognitive biases were dangerous
  • Sandhurst sources said that Harry’s representation was ‘wrong by 180 degrees’

Prince Harry’s claim the Army taught him to dehumanise the 25 Taliban he killed has been challenged by his Sandhurst classmates.

Speaking exclusively to the Mail, they said the prince was actually taught the exact opposite – that dehumanising and ‘othering’ were completely wrong – while a student at the officer academy.

According to other officer cadets, they and Harry were warned such cognitive biases were highly dangerous.

The Mail has also obtained Sandhurst’s battlefield ethics syllabus which highlights these risks, using examples such as the killing of a Taliban prisoner by Royal Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman.

Prince Harry’s claim the Army taught him to dehumanise the 25 Taliban he killed has been challenged by his Sandhurst classmates

Prince Harry’s claim the Army taught him to dehumanise the 25 Taliban he killed has been challenged by his Sandhurst classmates

Last night, former colleagues and Sandhurst sources said Harry’s representation of army teaching was ‘wrong by 180 degrees’.

Harry attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in 2005-06, commissioning, aged 21, as Officer Cadet Wales into the Blues and Royals cavalry regiment.

His ‘kills’ came on his second tour of Afghanistan as the gunner aboard an Apache attack helicopter which is armed with Hellfire missiles and a 30mm chain-gun, which he fired.

In his controversial memoir Spare he claimed ‘they’ – his Army instructors – ‘trained me to “other” them and they trained me well’.

He added: ‘In truth, you can’t hurt people if you see them as people. They were chess pieces taken off the board, bad guys eliminated before they kill good guys.’

Harry attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in 2005-06, commissioning, aged 21, as Officer Cadet Wales into the Blues and Royals cavalry regiment

Harry attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst (RMAS) in 2005-06, commissioning, aged 21, as Officer Cadet Wales into the Blues and Royals cavalry regiment

But this claim was called into question last night, as an officer who passed out alongside Harry said: ‘The dangers of cognitive biases were taught and there was no suggestion of simply “othering” people, that’s just wrong.

‘If you no longer think of your enemy as being like yourself, if you dehumanise them, your sense of right and wrong is entirely compromised.

‘The idea he and I were taught that is ludicrous. Instructors were very clear we should not go down that road.’

Sandhurst students spend several weeks learning the principles of ethical leadership to prepare them for leading troops in combat.

The Army’s core text on this subject, by Dr Dennis Vincent, says: ‘Unethical action starts with small steps – obedience to authority figure, dehumanisation of victim, loss of empathy.’

In his controversial memoir Spare the Prince claimed ‘they’ – his Army instructors – ‘trained me to “other” them and they trained me well’

In his controversial memoir Spare the Prince claimed ‘they’ – his Army instructors – ‘trained me to “other” them and they trained me well’

Dr Vincent is head of Sandhurst’s Department of Communication and Applied Behavioural Science.

RMAS cadets are advised to read academic publications such as Dehumanisation (Kelman, 1973), which discusses the dangers of stripping people of their dignity and humanity, Othering (Levi-Strauss, 1955) and Dehumanisation (Faure, 2008), which consider the perception of others as evil.

These texts spell out the dangers of approaches such as Harry’s breaking down of Afghans into two groups, good guys and bad guys – the warnings are particularly relevant to the conflict in Afghanistan, where boundaries between combatants and non-combatants were often blurred.

The shooting of a wounded Taliban prisoner by Sgt Blackman is also studied.

Sandhurst cadets are taught that ‘dehumanisation’ influenced decision making among Sgt Blackman and his colleagues before he pulled the trigger.

In 2013 the experienced commando was found guilty of murder, later reduced to manslaughter, after shooting an injured captive in the chest at close range with a pistol. Two other marines from his section were acquitted.

A Sandhurst source said: ‘Harry’s representation of army teaching on battlefield ethics could not be more wrong. He is 180 degrees wrong.

‘How he could think othering and dehumanisation are right, when actually officers are taught they’re both wrong and also highly dangerous, is beyond me.’

Last night, the Ministry of Defence declined to comment.

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