Letter to The National, 06/10/16
The news that British Soldiers will be made exempt from the European Convention on Human Rights was met by cheers from many quarters, but as a former serviceman I am disturbed at the message that this sends out. British troops will still be subject to the Geneva Conventions but I have seen much over the last few years which suggests that many, and worryingly many among serving personnel, feel that British troops should not be held accountable for what are by any reasonable standards, war crimes. The case of Sgt Blackman RM who shot and killed a wounded Afghan enemy combatant is particularly notable. A petition submitted to the UK parliament gained almost 35,000 signatures. Championed by the Daily Mail, almost a million pounds was raised in a matter of weeks to fund a legal challenge, and this had a high profile launch in the Daily Mail who described the events as ‘Dignified and Defiant”. I can barely believe that so many people would rally round to support a convicted war criminal. The “Our Boys” Sun mentality which has elevated all our soldiers to heroes vastly oversimplifies the fact that they do an extremely stressful job, often in a lethal environment, and that sometimes they get it wrong or worse deliberately breach the law. For a country that once claimed to be a beacon of law and democracy to the world, the attitudes displayed during this “phoney-Brexit” period are anything but. The UK Government is sending a new message to the world and it’s a message which discredits British troops before they even set foot on the ground. They are telling people around the world that the British Army can operate without impunity to a certain extent and that their complaints, which if we look to Iraq where millions of pounds was rightly awarded in compensation, will henceforth be treated as vexatious. If they are trying to tell British troops that illegal detention and torture of suspects is unacceptable they are going the wrong way about it.