The Scotsman 

Wed 24 May 2006


Clause 8 inhuman

Clause 8 of the Armed Forces Bill, which says soldiers who go absent without leave intending to refuse to take part in a "military occupation of a foreign country or territory" can be imprisoned for life, has been passed by the Commons by 442 to 19 (your report, 23 May). Among the MPs we alerted, Angus MacNeil and John McDonnell were the two who took Clause 8 as the serious threat it is, and in Monday's debate, Mr McDonnell characterised it as "inhuman and barbaric".

With Clause 8, the government not only tries to legitimise occupation, but also undermines soldiers' - and everyone's - right to say "No" to illegal and immoral orders, a right won after the Second World War, when Britain, the United States and other Allies insisted that soldiers who didn't disobey Nazi orders were war criminals (the Nuremberg Principles).

Also inhuman and barbaric is the recruitment of children as young as 16, for whom the conditions of service are a kind of slavery; soldiers are still tried by a three-officer jury in a court martial rather than by a non-military jury; and it is still illegal for two or more soldiers to together make any complaint - from lack of body armour to abuse at Deepcut barracks - far behind most EU countries' legislation on the military.

But we have another avenue for action. Tom Watson, the new Under-Secretary of State for Defence, was given a rough ride during the debate on Clause 8. This dissent in the Commons is a lever to put vital pressure on the Lords, who can insist that the Armed Forces Bill, like all legislation, upholds the Nuremberg Principles.

MICHAEL KALMANOVITZ, Payday men's network, Crossroads Women's Centre, Kentish Town, London