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Common  Sense has to rule

Reg Keys speaking at the 2005 Stop the War conference.

Regís son was killed in action in Iraq and he will be standing against Geoff Hoon at the general election.


Good morning, thank you to Andrew of the coalition, who invited me here today to express some of my views, because as some of you will probably know, I have been quite outspoken on some of these issues, most of you will know that I lost my dear son Tom just four days short of his 21st birthday he was killed in Al Majar with five colleagues trapped in a police station surrounded by an angry mob intent on revenge to make these six RMPís Royal Military Police accountable because of the killings that had taken place earlier in that town by members of the parachute regiment.

When Tom went to war I must confess here that I had to support him. Thereís my son going off to the war, he needed his fatherís support, and rather naively I believed Tony Blairís rhetoric,  banging the table, we are under immediate this countryís interests can be struck within 45 minutes Saddam has these weapons the evidence is there its authoritative, and its definite, we must take action.

I was beginning to wonder the weapons inspectors we want more time, does there need to be this rush tom unit was rushed out to Iraq ill equipped half the lads didnít have proper boots soldiers were being sent food parcels, and Rose [Gentle, also speaking] will back me up on this in the early days we were sending food parcels out to our sons.

Why this sudden rush? Then what happens is we find out arenít any weapons of mass distraction. I would like to remind Tony Blair of a comment he made in the house February 2003 where he stated that Saddam could stay in power if he was willing to hand over his weapons of mass destruction.  How can he hand them over when he hasnít got them?

Suddenly realising that now he has egg on his face, his troops are deployed in Iraq there are no weapons of mass destruction, thereís a quick about turn in rhetoric now we are going to impose democracy so here we are imposing democracy on a country I feel  is not quite yet ready for it. Here we have the cradle of civilisation in Iraq, since Biblical times its been tribal, run by tribal elders even when tom trained the local Iraqi police they no authority they had to consult with tribal elders before they could carry out their duties have we the expediency of an extraction strategy how do we get out of this mess that weíve created the building blocks and the foundations of the possibilities of civil war weíve destabilised Iraq weíve pitted Iraqis against Iraqis and where the country will probably fragment into three regions Sunni, Shia and Kurds up north.

In some of Tomís phone calls home towards the end there were notes of despair ďdadĒ he would say "I really donít know what we are doing here. These are very poor people, they have nothing and they are being slaughtered."

Tom told me a story one day he was very, very tearful on the phone. These so called smart bombs that the American deploy, on their way up north they released some of these so called smart bombs and they donít take out one house they take out half the street and everybody in those properties.

An Iraqi came up to Tom begging him to help dig his wife and three children out of the rubble of his humble home. Tom and two colleagues dug this manís wife and three children out of the rubble and the only place to bury them was on waste ground at the end of the street. That man returned to his house pulled out his Kalashnikov waved it to the heavens and my son tom said is there anywhere we can take you? Where am I to go he said Iím going up north to kill Americans.

I ask myself a question Ė do I blame this man? What do I call this man? Do I call him an insurgent, do I call him a terrorist, I think Claire short may refer to him as a freedom fighter I think its high time we saw this man as a dehumanised human being, and who dehumanised him? Blair, Bush and this war. I actually hold Tony Blair as guilty of my sonís death as those Iraqis that pulled the trigger, for all I know that man who had his wife and three children killed that day may have taken part in the attack on the police station and I like to think that they didnít kill Tom they just killed what Tom represented and this is an unfortunate fact of war and speaking as I do I often incur criticism.

Certain members of the British legions up and down the country have criticised me. Theyíll say Reg, look your son joined up, he signed the oath of allegiance he had to expect that he may get killed. Had Tom been killed in Sierra Leone rescuing hostages Iíd have to accept that, but I will not accept that Tom has died deceived by his own government in an illegal war. That is my answer to their criticism and also he was under the command of bungling, incompetent officers with a total disregard for the safety of their men.

Tom signed the oath of allegiance much like Gordon Gentle signed the oath of allegiance now people will say he signed on the doted line Reg. You have to expect the consequences but I had to counter sign for Tom because he was under 18 years old. I thought I was signing Thomas over to a conscientious government. A government that would not lie, that would not deceive him, would not deploy him into the theatre of war under false pretenses.

I also felt that I was handing him over to a competent employer not an employer that would let him down on the day by taking his ammunition, high explosion grenades off him, his morphine and also his red flare to call for help so Tom was left behind that day with his five colleagues to face the consequences of the mob.

In fact I like to compare Tony Blair and George Bush to a  pantomime horse. We have George Bush at the front end, Tony Blair is obviously the rear end, you donít need me to tell you where the nose is. Where will this pantomime horse lead us to next? Will it lead us to Iran, Korea, Syria it has to be brought to an end, common sense just has to simply rule.

Tomís colleagues on returning from Iraq Iíve met them on several occasions, most of them are now signing off, they are nervous wrecks traumatised by what they have actually witnessed in Iraq. Iíll just a take a couple more minutes then Iíll give another speaker a chance.

The board of inquiry into Tomís death had 130 witnesses, all military, conducted was behind locked doors and where Al Majar was a relatively stable, benign town peaceful to the British forces. Because of the actions of certain members it had become very, very hostile. One person told us, witness 36, donít go to Al Majar on the 24th they are planning to attack a patrol. Nobody told Thomas and his colleagues another one here from a para ďWe didnít likeĒ excuse me here Iím not being racist just quoting verbatim ďwe didnít like the rag heads, we are going to kick assĒ on another occasion the weapons searches a certain para said "well if they wouldnít sit down we would bayonet them in the legs" can anybody wonder that thereís a backlash that faced my son that day when these sorts of atrocities were taking place on a regular basis on that I will close and thank you.


February 2005


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