In a world that is ever more polarised, among the idealistic there is a certain hope that some concepts will always be considered universal. In a world where Trump will most likely be acquitted for a crime of office, they hope that some crimes will always be prosecuted, that justice will be served in a fitting manner. However, following the typical pattern, it seems that the UK may now be legislating against the prosecution of soldiers, turning our unofficial collusion with illegal and unjust battlefield tactics into law.
Last year, Boris Johnson created the new Office of Veteran’s affairs, which is perfectly justified. However, part of this process involved suggesting a ten year prosecuting limit for crimes that veterans were involved in. Although Johnson has still not confirmed these plans, I believe the media has been ignoring the hugely damaging impact this could have. This would mean that British soldiers who have been accused of war crimes in conflicts as recent as Iraq and Afghanistan will not stand trial, nor be brought to justice for potential heinous acts.
War crimes seems to be yet another example of Western hypocrisy, preaching “do as I say, not what I do” to any countries with less political power or lower GDP. Throughout the 20th century, the West have promoted human rights, and used accusations of war crimes as a political tool to destabilise regimes with one hand, and with the other, been covertly involved with some of the most brutal regimes and crimes against civilians over the past fifty years.
Perhaps the most striking recent example is UK complicity with the torture carried out by the US government post 9/11 and during wars in Iraq and Afganhistan. The repeated illegal torture of detainees at Guantanmo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons had levels of British involvement, and it is our nation’s duty to prosecute those involved, even if the US fails to take responsibility for the brutality.
Even ignoring the multitudinous moral reasons, it is also politically incoherent to let soldiers get away with crimes. When governments allow their soldiers to commit war crimes without risk of punishment, all credibility is lost. Over the past five years our government has been proud to call out war crimes around the globe, undertaken by all range of regimes, yet none of these will be taken seriously unless Johnson reconsiders his proposal.
I understand that we are in a phase of withdrawing from international commitments, but it is essential that we do not let this include fundamental human rights. A crime is still a crime, regardless of the context of conflict, and the possibility of soldiers getting away with abuses of power, or even torture, is not a precedent our country should follow. We may claim to be one of the great nations of the world, but trawling through even recent accusations against our veterans makes for the sobering discovery that we are a nation with an immense capability for brutality, and the inclinations to cover that brutality up. The least we can do is make sure that those who took part in torture or killed the unarmed are tried and receive justice.
Image: US Army Europe via Flickr