Dissident soldiers 'will not be disciplined'
By Dominic Kennedy
TWO soldiers sent back from the Gulf after expressing concerns about the legality of the Iraq war will not face disciplinary action, their lawyer said yesterday.
The pair became icons of the anti-war movement after the Stop the War Coalition encouraged supporters to send them messages of support.
The soldiers, whose names have not been made public, were said to have been inspired by the resignation from the Cabinet of Robin Cook, the former Foreign Secretary, to question whether the conflict was justified. Their solicitor, Gilbert Blades, suggested that the Government was reluctant to allow the legality of the Iraq war to be put on trial by punishing the men.
The Ministry of Defence denied that any soldier had been sent back from the Gulf after expressing concerns about the justification for war.
The two men, a private and an engineer from 16 Air Assault Brigade in Colchester, are said to have talked to colleagues about fears that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. After being sent back to Britain they retained Mr Blades, a member of the National Institute of Military Justice, in case they were court-martialled and interviewed by the police. The pair faced imprisonment if they were convicted of treason or of refusing to obey an order.
Mr Blades said: The Robin Cook resignation was the sort of focal point. That really sparked it up and fanned it up. They were getting bombarded with propaganda that this was an illegal war or it would be an illegal war if it went without United Nations (support). They were doubtful about whether it was a legal war. They were very reluctant to get involved in something that might involve innocent civilians.
They were expressing their doubts (in) a number of discussions . . . which came to the ears of the commanding officer. At least one of them was interviewed by a superior officer and he repeated his views. They were pretty definite that they were not prepared, if asked, to involve themselves in shooting innocent civilians.
Mr Blades said the men were sent home to prevent their views spreading and taking root. They have now been told that no disciplinary action will be taken and nothing will go on their records. I believe that the MoD were reluctant to initiate any legal proceedings because they know that our case would be that it was an illegal war, he said.
An MoD spokesman denied that any troops were removed from the Gulf after expressing concerns about the legality of the war and of having to attack civilians.
Mr Blades suggested that the MoD was playing with words. Other reasons, such as compassionate grounds, may have been specified for the pairs return to Britain, he said.
The MoD said: We are not the kind of service these days that puts them up against the wall and shoots them. I am not aware of anybody being returned from the Gulf for expressing views against the war.
Moshin Khan, an RAF reservist from Suffolk, was disciplined for going absent without leave when called up for duty in Iraq. He is to appeal on the ground that his Muslim faith forbids him to fight Muslims.