Fighting for soldiers

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(340)

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton has been a soldier for five years. He first went to Afghanistan in 2006, but refused to return. Next month he faces a court martial for desertion.

He wrote to Gordon Brown to explain: "The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk. Far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there."

I am proud to legally represent Joe. He is following his conscience. It is a sign of the mood inside the army that his stand is popular with fellow soldiers, who treat him like their shop steward.

Joe is being asked to take on soldiers' battles over poor living conditions and rat infested barracks. "I believe that the discontent in the army can be organised into real resistance on the ground," he says. "The treatment I suffered and the court martial I face are typical of the way ordinary soldiers are treated.

"We need a voice and if I can help raise the volume of that voice then I will. We are only going to be able to stop the war if we can raise the voices of discontent to a crescendo. Stop the war. Refuse to go!"

The GIs' revolt against the Vietnam War in the 1960s was an important part of the movement that shook the US ruling class. Gung-ho officers were "fragged" - shot by their own troops - on the front line. At home young men refused the draft.

Joe's stand reveals the first cracks inside the British military over the war. By speaking out he hopes to inspire others and expose the war criminals: "I must not stand by and do nothing as the Afghan people suffer and soldiers are dying for a war that cannot be won, led by generals and the pro-death politicians. I want to see the warmongers put on trial."

It's clear the ruling class are worried. Increasing numbers of soldiers are going awol. The army now allows soldiers to give four months notice to quit instead of 12 months.

Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp had no answer when it was put to him in a radio debate that the reason for this dramatic change in the notice period was because of discontent in the ranks. The other reason may be the army's ability to recruit new cannon fodder - thanks to the recession and unemployment.

I also represent Danny Fitzsimons, the private security guard who faces the death penalty in Baghdad for the double murder of fellow workers. Danny has worked in the industry since his discharge from the Parachute Regiment in 2004.

Danny's case is much harder. Many ask why we should support a mercenary. The most reasoned argument I have heard is that it will divide the anti-war movement as some will not feel comfortable supporting a mercenary.

But Danny is a product of war. He started suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2003, and was discharged from the army to get him out of their duty of care. Thousands of abandoned soldiers suffer from PTSD. This is because they are expected to do unnatural things, and see horrors no one should see. Soldiers are wound up like a spring to fight - yet they get no help to unwind.

Group 4, which employed Danny, profits greatly from this work. The privatisation of war means that there are 130,000 private security workers in Iraq. The discontent among these people is massive.

I was asked why Danny went to Iraq if he was unwell. Danny, a soldier since he was 16, lived in a flat in Manchester on £64.30 a week unemployment benefit. Ex-soldiers are disproportionately on benefits, in mental institutions, homeless on the streets or in prison. The family campaign to bring Danny home for trial and for medical treatment is growing in strength, with the support of ex-soldiers.

He is now held in barbaric conditions in a Baghdad dungeon, sharing his 6-metre-square cell with as many as 20 people. The electricity often stops, heating the cell like an oven. There is incoming fire every day.

The people of Iraq face years, perhaps decades, of this hell. The official line is that Iraq is a democratic, sovereign country, with a just legal system. Tell it to the fairies. It is George Bush and Tony Blair who should face war crimes charges.