JOHN Reid, Britain's Defence Secretary, is a persuasive advocate and he made a strong case earlier this week for a fuller understanding of the difficulties that British soldiers have in carrying out their responsibilites in Iraq. He asked critics, particularly those in the media, to be “a little slower to condemn and a lot quicker to understand”. His remarks come after the video of British troops roughing-up young Iraqi demonstrators was seen on television throughout the world. In a speech at London's King's College, Mr Reid pointed out that British forces in Iraq are operating on an “uneven playing field of scrutiny” where their actions are analysed down to the “level of a single private soldier” while the enemy refuses any scrutiny at all and “endeavours to exploit our highly prized free media against us.” Even “the most junior of troops,” said Mr Reid, “face dangers unimaginable to most of us”. The United States frequently justifies Guantanamo Bay on the grounds that in the war on terror the rules have changed and therefore so must the ways of winning it. The kind of job that British troops are being called on to do in Iraq has few, if any, precedents and they deserve every possible consideration for the pressures they are under. However, Mr Reid makes a mistake in implying that the British media are part of the problem. In the first place, all the filming and photography of the abuse of Iraqis has been done by service people themselves. When the media use the results it is because they believe the public should know just what kind of a war is going on in their name. British ministers and their American counterparts would be better placed to criticise the media for their coverage of Iraq if they themselves were willing to admit that the troops should never have been sent there in the first place.