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Fighting for democracy?

Written By: - Date published: 3:00 pm, November 20th, 2009 - 15 comments
Categories: activism, afghanistan, International - Tags:

Joe Glenton at an anti-war rally

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton is facing prison after speaking out at an anti-war rally.

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, ‘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 ‘sensitive’ infrastructure and people including military buildings and police officers under the guise of ‘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.

15 comments on “Fighting for democracy?”

  1. Geek 1

    When you sign to join the military you sign away many of the rights normal people have. These include the right the be a member of a union or a political party and it is for good reason.

    This is made very clear before you sign the dotted line. During your time the restrictions on what you can and can’t say and what you will and won’t do when ordered are very clear. If you aren’t happy with this you leave.

    If this person felt as they did they can put in their numbers and leave the service and feel free to criticize as much as they want. By choosing to do it whilst in the service they undermine the chain of command upon which the military is wholly reliant. Unfortunately some people feel that it lends weight to their opinion if they are an acting service member speaking out against the war. It is designed to create just the sort of situation we see here.

    The public is often unaware of the above and they feel sympathy for the accused. I however see someone who is manufacturing a story to make apolitical point and it annoys me that it will be so effective.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.1

      International law allows for soldiers to disobey orders if they believe that those orders are illegal. This is probably due to the finding in the Nuremberg Trials after WWII that following orders isn’t an excuse or defence for war crimes.

    • rocky 1.2

      The point is that he couldn’t leave the military. And isn’t it ridiculous that officers are allowed to speak out in support of the war, but not against it? Being charged with desertion is one thing, but getting a specific charge for speaking your mind is another.

      Desertion only carries a penalty of up to three years I think. These new charges under a new law only passed in October mean he faces up to 10 years for speaking out.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 1.3

      By pass the chain of command ?

      Yeah right , like George Bush was able to do by taking directly every week to Petraeus in Iraq, by passing about 3 levels of the so called chain of command

  2. Olwyn 2

    I thought that the Nazi trials after the second world war created a precedent whereby individual soldiers were responsible for their actions, and could not use the claim that they were merely obeying orders as an excuse for war crimes. So, it seems to me that if this soldier thinks that the war is unjust, then he ought not be punished for non-compliance with the military’s demands with regard to it.

  3. Geek 3

    It is not only international law. In NZ the Armed forces discipline act clearly states that to carry out an order that would result in an illegal act in itself is a crime. However the person must be sure that the act involved is illegal. If there is any ambiguity then they must follow the order and then after wards raise a complaint.

    However that has nothing to do with this case. This was someone not complying with written orders to not publicly comment on this matter. By following the order he is not breaking the law he therefore has no protection from prosecution. Believe me this stuff is drilled into every recruit during basic training.

    You are both applying it in the wrong context. The wording is that you must not follow an order that would result in you breaking the law. If the order does not result in you breaking the law then you must follow it.

    • Olwyn 3.1

      Thanks for that clarification Geek.

    • lprent 3.2

      Exactly correct. Soldiers are not civilians. You follow orders even if you disagree with them unless they are clearly illegal. In this case it will be a standing order.

      You’d find that the officers referred to as speaking up ‘for’ the war aren’t. They will have been given orders that they can comment on the progress, strategy, or tactics of the war. If they should be in the war itself is a political decision and something that they would not comment on.

      There are more reasons that can be reasonably listed here about why the military has to operate this way. But suffice it to say that wanting to act as a civilian usually gets more people killed than otherwise – usually the wrong ones because it is a rabble rather than a force.

      But the fastest way to find out is probably to go and do some service in the terries 😈

      What rocky is suggesting is the civilian viewpoint. If he wanted to be a civilian, then he should have put in for a discharge.

      • rocky 3.2.1

        Glenton disappeared without leave for two years without saying anything public, so one can only assume he did try to leave the military.

        This might be a civilian view, but by disobeying orders, Glenton helps to highlight for the public the situation in Afghanistan as he has seen first hand. For me as a civilian, hearing accounts from people first hand, either for or against the war, are what help me make up my mind about the issues. Public opinion has a big impact on whether or not a government chooses to participate in a war, so having military propaganda from only one side is anti-democratic. Funny how they like to go on about how the purpose of the war is to fight for democracy!

  4. Marcus 4

    It’s a naval term “toe the line” – at Sunday divisions you all had seams on the ship that you were meant to stand on while being inspected by the Captain. Hence, to fall in with the group is to put your toes up to the line, or to “toe the line”.
    Sorry, pet peeve derived from repeated reads of Patrick O’Brian novels. Thoroughly recommend them by the way.

  5. illuminatedtiger 5

    Note to those who are going to be out tomorrow: Now that’s what a march for Democracy is in it’s very definition and is nothing like your half mill tory gathering tomorrow.

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    After reading the interview it actually sounds more like he was suffering from some sort of post combat stress disorder and probably should have been discharged on medical grounds (if he’d gone to see the doctor).

    There are definitely grounds for soldiers having the speech curtailed, letting the enemy know where the combat unit is going to be etc, but I don’t think their political opinion about the conflict should be. That’s going too far.

  7. deemac 7

    meanwhile there was a good editorial in the Herald today on the “March for Democracy”! Has the world gone mad?

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