Morning Star, Tuesday 11 April 2006

RAF doctor Malcolm Kendall-Smith

by DANIEL COYSH

 

PEACE campaigners condemned "spiteful" government plans to jail military refuseniks for life yesterday.

 

As the number of servicemen and women refusing to go to Iraq and Afghanistan continues to grow; activists warned that a Bill currently being sneaked, through Parliament will impose draconian penalties on such soldiers.

 

An Armed Forces Bill is required every five years to maintain the provisions of current service legislation relating to service discipline and to make any amendments.

 

The Bill is usually waved through with only minor amendments, but new Labour appears determined to wreak vengeance on troops who object to its new-found support for pre-emptive war.

 

Section eight of the Bill introduces a new, harsher definition of desertion, meaning that soldiers who intend to avoid serving in a "military occupation of a foreign country or territory" can be imprisoned for life.

 

This major change in the law is being introduced at a time when the number of soldiers absconding from the British army has trebled since the invasion of Iraq, campaigners pointed out.

 

A Military Families Against the War (MFAW) spokesman said that the measure is another "act of spiteful desperation by the Blair government, which is becoming increasingly draconian as support for its wars drains away.

 

He urged MPs to demand that the Bill's provisions be scrapped.

 

A Payday 'campaign spokesman agreed that the legislation is "a clear attack on the growing movement of men and women in the military who refuse to be part of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere."

 

Voluntary military personnel support group At Ease pointed out that the Bill does not propose informing members of the armed forces of their right to appeal to the advisory committee on conscientious objection, "which might avoid the unnecessar - public expense - as well as the injustice - of long years of impris-onment."

 

High-profile British Refuseniks include former SAS member Ben Griffen, Gulf war veteran and reservist Ray Hewitt, RAF doctor Malcolm Kendall-Smith (above) and Medical Corps lance-corporal George Solomon.

 

Dr Kendall-Smith is currently facing court martial for his refusal to return to Iraq.

 

And the government is even threatening Mr Griffen, who was honourably discharged, with "civil proceedings" after he' branded the Iraq war "illegal."

 

Although Mr Griffen spoke freely about his private views and misgivings, he did not reveal any information on SAS tactics or operations, choosing, instead to reveal atrocities which he saw being committed by US forces.

 

But government lawyers claim that he has breached a life-long "solemn undertaking" not- to disclose any events of his career in the SAS without first informing the Ministry of Defence.

 

The MFAW spokesman comment-ed that the legal threat showed that "this government is not prepared to tolerate any public dissent from former servicemen, even those as distinguished as Ben Griffen."

 

*Military Families Against the- War and the Stop the Wax Coalition will be picketing the army recruitment office in Glasgow tomorrow.

 

The Keep the Army Out of our Schools - No More Recruits for Blair's War demonstration will take place outside the offices in Queen Street between llam and lpm.

 

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