Soldiers from 40 Regiment Highland Gunners in training at Shribah base 10 miles south of Basra, Iraq. Credit: David Cheskin/PA
Lance Corp. Thomas Keys who was killed with 5 other soldiers in Majar Southern Iraq in june 2003
A disgraceful way to treat our veterans
Criticism of the criminal inquiries into troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan unites very different people. Tony Blair, who led Britain into both conflicts, has told this newspaper that the investigations are wrong and that they make a soldier’s job much harder to do. Reg Keys, who famously ran for Parliament against Mr Blair in protest at the Iraq War, accuses the Government of “rank double standards” for hounding British troops while failing to pursue the Iraqi insurgents who killed his son. A consensus is emerging: the inquiries are a farce.
Of course, accusations of war crimes have to be taken very seriously – but this process has been mishandled from the beginning. For instance, around 3,368 allegations have been brought before the Iraq Historical Allegations Team, many of them dragged out over years. The vast majority have originated from one law firm, which has had its legal aid withdrawn and ceased operation. The Government now says it wants to sue to get public money back.
"Johnny Mercer MP makes the powerful point that soldiers are being asked to adhere to human rights laws designed for peaceful, democratic Europe. Not the battlefield."
Individual soldiers have been left waiting for judgments while receiving insufficient financial and pastoral support. In a letter to this newspaper, a bereaved parent of a soldier killed in Afghanistan argues that they “were doing a job in the most awful circumstances... and we are hanging them out to dry”. And Johnny Mercer MP makes the powerful point that soldiers are being asked to adhere to human rights laws designed for peaceful, democratic Europe. Not the battlefield.
The issue is compelling; the debate may well be complicated – but we should not mistake a genuine attempt to get to the truth with the bureaucratic muddle and cynical manipulation of high ideals that has characterised these inquiries. Given their many failings, the question has to be asked, why has the Government not brought them to a close? It is reported that David Cameron wanted to. Theresa May has said she wants to crack down on “vexatious” claims. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, called them a “witch hunt”.
It is within the Government’s gift to wind down these inquiries – so why do they persist? Does the Government believe this is the only way to avoid an international legal nightmare? If it allows them to continue, however, it risks abandoning Britain’s veterans to a personal nightmare of allegations that revisit the confusion and horror of war. It is a disgraceful way to treat veterans.