A British soldier was arrested on Monday for speaking out at an anti-war rally and refusing to return to fight in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Joe Glenton has been charged not just with desertion, but with new charges under the Armed Forces Act 2006 which came into force on October 31st – the same day an interview with him was published in The Guardian. If convicted, Glenton could be facing more than ten years in prison.
Military people are allowed to speak to the media if they toe the line and defend the war in Afghanistan, but it is now illegal to speak out against the war. Apparently joining the military now means giving up your right to freedom of speech.
Glenton says he will fight all the charges, and told the Military Court he was planning to call an expert in international law to argue that the war in Afghanistan is illegal. In a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he wrote:
It is my primary concern that the courage and tenacity of my fellow soldiers has become a tool of American foreign policy.
I believe that when British military personnel submit themselves to the service of the nation and put their bodies into harm’s way, the government that sends them into battle is obliged to ensure that the cause is just and right, ie for the protection of life and liberty.
The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country.
Britain has no business there. I do not believe that our cause in Afghanistan is just or right. I implore you, sir, to bring our troops home.
Yesterday Peace Action Wellington held a small solidarity picket outside the British Embassy to coincide with Glenton’s bail hearing where the Military Court decided he should be kept in custody for a further 28 days. From Peace Action Wellington:
The solidarity picket was approached by Embassy security who said that, â€˜it was fine to have a picket but that if anyone was taking photographs, there could be problems.’ Clearly this person thinks he is in London; severe new laws in the UK have made it an offence to photograph â€˜sensitive’ infrastructure and people including military buildings and police officers under the guise of â€˜fighting terrorism’.
I realise it’s a sort of catch 22 situation for the military and government – charge the guy and get all the associated bad press, let it go and risk others following his lead. The question they should be asking themselves is whether they really want soldiers fighting in a war they oppose. I imagine that will have its own set of consequences. And as if propping up a corrupt regime isn’t bad enough, the hypocrisy is astounding – they claim to be fighting for a democratic Afghanistan while locking people up in their own country for daring to have an opinion.