Apologies, this one is a bit of a rant.
It was announced today that around 60 cases investigating unlawful killings by UK forces in Iraq have been dropped. This follows the MoD looking into it and deciding not to proceed in these cases (story here).
This is of course good news for those involved, and false claims should be disregarded, however, the response to the news online shows a worrying attitude shared by many people.
This is the belief that all claims against UK soldiers should be thrown out and that “our boys” (they’re always talking about the “boys”, the British public still slightly squeamish about women doing the killing and dying) are somehow above reproach. For me this is not only incredibly stupid but also potentially dangerous.
If our soldiers are allowed to do whatever they want without consequence how can we stand in judgement on enemy combatants when they do wrong? War is hell and chaotic, but there is at least some sense of what is right and what is wrong, and those who transgress are held accountable, even if it is after the fact. Without this all manner of evil could be done.
This blind faith that “our boys and girls” are immune to the callousness and cruelty that war can breed in people is willful blindness to reality. The men and women who serve in our forces are human beings, and while many have good intentions and try to do right there will be some who do wrong. Putting on a uniform does not transform someone into a paragon of virtue. Enlisting does not a hero make.
We have a duty to prosecute and punish those who commit crimes during war. If we don’t then we are failing our values, the very thing that they are meant to be fighting to protect. Those who break the law must be tried and pay for their crimes if found guilty.
To allow soldiers to evade this undermines the idea of justice we should aim for- that justice is blind and that all are equal. Whether the victim is a British citizen, foreign civilian or even enemy combatants, they have rights and should be treated fairly, when they are not, they all deserve justice.
Similarly, a criminal is a criminal, even if they wear our country’s uniforms.
There will of course be fraudulent or exaggerated cases, and lawyers who seek a quick buck, but hopefully these cases will be resolved and the innocent walk free, but the guilty must be brought to justice.
It’s in the best interests to investigate them all so that the false ones can be dismissed and not just hang over the accused, continuing to sow doubt. An investigation that clears someone is obviously better than just ignoring the allegations.
Pursuing them is not wrong, and wanting them punished is not unpatriotic. Hell, not being patriotic isn’t a failing or a bad thing, in fact, we need to be objective when we think of our country, and ready and willing to call it on when it is wrong or could be better.
But for those still clinging to the idea of patriotism as a virtue, then surely the prosecution of wrongdoers in our military is patriotic. It helps protect the country’s reputation and that of our military. We should be ashamed of events like Bloody Sunday and the death of Baha Mousa, we should not be ashamed to investigate them (even if it comes far too late).
We should be proud that we do not tolerate abuse from our troops and that we execute justice against them. We should strive for transparency so that we know what “our boys and girls” are doing in our name, and to ensure that they behave appropriately.
Pursuing them is not disrespect, it is an attempt for justice. Nobody is above the law. Is it disrespectful to go after a criminal?
By all means honour our troops and praise them if you want, but don’t do it blindly. Don’t shout down any suggestion that they are not superheroes without flaws, because they’re not. Don’t act as though prosecuting them is unfair or wrong, because it benefits none of us to have a situation where our soldiers can do whatever they want without consequence.
We need to be able to question and hold our soldiers accountable, as we do our politicians and police officers. It’s what keeps them (relatively) honest and stops them being able to do terrible things in our name.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.