Armed Forces Bill 2006

Andy Newman

 

It is remarkable how little media attention there has been to the Armed Forces Bill 2006, a major redrafting of military law, which will be in the Commons on 22 May. It has gone through committee stage with almost no controversy, even by high profile politicians who opposed the Iraq war.  In the UK, an Armed Forces Bill is required every five years in order to continue in force the provisions of the current Service legislation relating to Service discipline, and to make any amendments.

 

Before Members of Parliament vote on this Bill, they should understand why there are serious objections to it. It seems that Tony Blair’s government, worried that the number of soldiers absconding from the army has trebled since the invasion of Iraq, is changing the law specifically to prevent soldiers voting with their feet.

 

Section 8 of the bill would introduce a new and tougher definition of desertion: soldiers who go absent without leave (AWOL) and intend to refuse to take part in a “military occupation of a foreign country or territory” can be imprisoned for life. Osman Murat Ülke, a Conscientious objector from Turkey who won his right in the European Court not to be repeatedly jailed for his refusal, said of Section 8: “A soldier is still a human being and not a mechanical extension of the military apparatus. No contract, no oath and no law can change this.”

 

In contrast to the draconian sentence for soldiers who wish to opt out of Blair’s imperial crimes, a cap is being placed on the sentences for ill treatment of prisoners and subordinates. This is shocking following the scandalous level of bullying revealed at Deepcut barracks that has led to several suicides, or perhaps murders; and the revealed mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by British forces. The new bill proposes a maximum sentence of only two years for Ill-treatment of subordinates (Section 23) or disgraceful conduct of a cruel or indecent kind. (Section 22).

 

The Bill was an opportunity to right these wrongs, instead the injustices forces personnel face are being underlined and added to.

 

 

Interestingly, Dr John Reid as Secretary of State for Defence, recently stated that there is no need for any Unions or Federations in the UK Armed Forces because members of the Armed Forces are allowed to join civilian trade unions and attend their meetings. However Service men and women are not allowed to organise meetings or speak at meetings themselves. It is therefore time for civilian Trade Unions to act as advocates for their fellow workers in the Forces and demand that freedoms obtained during two centuries of workers' struggle be now extended to the Armed Forces.

 

 

 

May 2006

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