Defence minister Penny Mordaunt’s attempts to introduce an amnesty on historical prosecutions for British army veterans are designed to protect the British state and its leaders from international law
The Independent Voices
That war is a messy business is hardly a radical notion. The process of reparation and justice reflects this. It is chaotic, painful, emotionally charged and, at best, partial. These truths are borne out in the saga of the legacy prosecution cases that continue to emerge from Britain’s occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
Yet there is more to these cases than just the pain of victims and their families. These allegations and the processes around them have become highly politicised – hijacked, if you will – and used by the government and the military in an effort to protect the British state against laws and conventions that might someday interfere with our customary pursuit of foreign policy goals through military violence.
In a remarkable sleight of hand, this process, which could include opting out of the European Convention on Human Rights in times of war, has been framed (with some success, at least among the hard of thinking) as a patriotic defence of our brave soldiers, sailors and airmen against liberal-leaning, ambulance-chasing lawyers acting on behalf of sinister, cynical foreigners.
The truth is that where there is evidence of criminality – and in many cases the evidence is ample (the Ministry of Defence has paid out on hundreds of cases) – prosecutions must take place. Grandstanding about an issue of this weight, as new defence minister Penny Mordaunt did today in what has become a Tory tradition, demeans not just the law but the victims of war.
Yet hidden somewhere in the words of successive Tory figures on this matter is an atom of truth, though not as they would understand it. There is a serious need to revise and reform how we deal with the legal ramifications of our wars and what happens in them.
This is especially so bearing in mind that even a theoretically “just” war would by its very nature involve war crimes of some kind. The Allies in the Second World War, we might recall, were absolutely as capable of shooting civilians and engaging in rape and pillage as their opponents were in the conduct of war-fighting operations.