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12 Oct, 2009 09:50

Danish book forces army’s top brass to resign

A Danish commando's account of the front line in Afghanistan has landed not only himself in hot water, but forced the country's defense chief to resign. Army bosses claim the book could endanger national security.

The Politiken newspaper was the first to publish the full edition of the controversial book “Jæger – i krig med eliten” (“Ranger – fighting with the elite”) by former Danish commando Thomas Rathsack, who tells the story behind Danish Special Forces actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, not sparing any details.

The country's military has tried to ban the book, stirring publishers' interest even more:

“If we hadn't reacted strongly by publishing the book, it would become a trump card that the army could play on any day of the week, saying this is not convenient for us, so don't write about it,” Toger Seidenfaden, the editor-in-chief of Politiken explained.

The army says the book could undermine the security of Danish forces.

In an apparent attempt to highlight the danger, officers from the military staff had the text translated into Arabic and leaked it on the Internet:

"Suddenly, the minister of defense announced that there was an Arabic translation of the book on the Internet, and he pointed out to the whole press corps and to the parliament that this was clearly a sign that some dangerous people out there were interested in the contents of the book,”
Seidenfaden recalled.

“It also turned out that the leak which had put it briefly on the Internet had been done by the spokesman, the colonel in charge of communications for the defense ministry,” he noted.

When it emerged that the Arabic translation was the military’s handiwork, trust in the army’s top brass was shattered.

The book has details of how exactly Danish Special Forces operate, how they recognize each other working under cover in Afghanistan and a lot more.

The author is actually very proud of being a commando. But the irony is, in trying to show how good Danish Special Forces are, he has set off a ticking time bomb for Danish military officials.

The scandal over the military’s awkward attempt to get the book banned led to the resignation of key figures in the army, including the country's chief of defense.

Flemming Rose, who some four years ago was at the centre of a row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, does not support the author of the book, Thomas Rathsack, althought he acknowledges that “the army behaved stupidly.” Pose says, however, that this case is not about freedom of speech.

“It's about relations between employer and employee. That puts certain limits on what you can and what you can't say,” he said.

Former Danish intelligence officer Frank Grevil broke those limits some five years ago, when he leaked secret information to the press. He served 4 months in prison.

His account pointed at the incompetence of the country's intelligence in the war in Iraq.

“I was so sick and tired of my job because the Danish intelligence service turned out to be extremely unprofessional,” Grevil recalled. “We only received reports from other countries, because we didn't have anything of our own, you might say we translated into Danish what was written in English.”

Frank says he did it to reveal the truth. But he claims Thomas Rathsack’s book has more to do with vanity:

“I hate this. We usually call it military pornography.”

Pornography or not, it sells well. Rathsack’s book is now a number one bestseller in Denmark. He is preparing for a trial over the breach of confidentiality agreement.

As the scandal is ripe, both the author and the military refuse to comment. Questions still remain over whether the row is about freedom of speech or national security.