Law at War

What follows is an abridged reprint of an article which was published recently in an internationally available newspaper.

“Former police officers are being promised excitement and enhanced pay if they join the unit investigating allegations of war crimes by Nazi servicemen during the second world war.

Recruitment adverts placed by the Historic Allegations Team claim that it is “moving into an exciting new phase” and is offering “pay scales above market rates”.

The unit, which is led by a retired-senior policeman and based at Ministry of Defence offices in Bonn, has faced criticism over the expanding scope of its operations and the way it has approached veterans of the conflict.

The unit’s workload comprises more than 1,500 cases of alleged human rights abuses and war crimes, including 280 alleged victims of unlawful killing.

Fatality cases can be referred to Herr Gorge Neuman by the Ministry of Defence for further inquiry if the unit and the Services prosecuting Authority decide there is not enough evidence to mount a prosecution.

His inquiries – which have so far completed two reports on deaths at a total cost of 513,480 – prevent cases being taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The Ministry of Defence said that the unit had to study all the allegations it received in order to understand which ones were credible.”

Now, I’m fairly sure that there is nothing too objectionable in that article. In fact, many will welcome such investigations and the prosecution of anyone who is found to have killed unlawfully during the war. However, I did say that the article was abridged. I have removed every sentence which is framed in a leading way, either in favour or against the idea of the investigations and prosecutions reported on. I have also removed the headline. Having read the article it might surprise you to find that the headline which would go alongside it would be “Outrage over ‘crass’ advert to join hunt for Nazi war crimes”.

On the other hand, you might not be surprised by this headline at all when I say that I have also changed many of the details of the article. It does not regard Nazi war crimes at all. It regards war crimes by British forces. It is not focusing on events in the second world war, but in Iraq. It is not led by the Historic Allegations Team out of the Ministry of Defence in Bonn, but by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team out of the Ministry of Defence in Wiltshire. Fatality cases cannot be referred to Herr Gorge Neuman, but, to Sir George Newman. It has not cost 513,480, but £400,000 (equivalent by exchange rates at the time of writing).

This is the story which, without exception, every television, radio, or print report I have seen, has framed as an attack on our beloved troops. So what is my point? As someone who used to wish that the ex-service members in my family would tell more stories about their time in the forces, rather than complain about them like all my childhood friends, and as someone who actually intended to join the army myself and had visited the army careers centre to discuss this on the very day I was arrested, I firmly believe that when you send someone out to fight for your country, you support them and their family both whilst they do so and when they come home. However, I believe just as strongly that a crime is a crime and laws should be applied equally to everyone. If a member of our armed forces kills someone unlawfully, (that is, outside of the standard rules of engagement,) then this absolutely must be investigated and prosecuted in exactly the same way as we would want if the person doing it were an enemy combatant, be it from world war two, the Falklands, Iraq, or any other conflict at all.

There has to come a time when we can put aside the attitude espoused by a quote from Conservative MP Johnny Mercer in part of the real article, which I removed from the above abridgement since it was leading, but which will now close on to illustrate just what we are being asked to give up on:

“’Why on earth are we doing this to ourselves? In an effort to promote our Britishness and our honesty, the only people getting hurt are the men and women we sent out to serve and to keep us safe.'”

Apparently “Britishness and honesty” just aren’t worth it any more, folks.

[Extract from The Times, Sean O’Neill]

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