shortly after joining the army Joe and his colleagues attended an
intensive training day C DRILS.
R’ Respect for others
S’ Selfless Commitment
He was taught during
these sessions that it was his duty as a soldier to report any breach of
these moral and ethical standards, whether a breach was carried out by a
colleague or by an organisation. Service personnel are obliged to report
any vestige of wrongdoing.
During his time in
Afghanistan he began to question whether the war he was part of was
meeting the requirements of the code. He had been told initially that
the reason for UK troops being in the country was to bring about peace,
improve the situation for women and combat the threat of terrorism in
the UK. As time went on we all heard lots more reasons, “Mission Creep”
in military language. None of these rang true and still don’t.
He saw that the
benefits of UK forces being in the country were negligible and that the
Afghani people did not welcome the military presence despite the
publicity about the aims of reconstruction, improving security and
Joe was promoted on
his return to the UK, three years ahead of his promotion curve,
demonstrating that the army found him an exemplary soldier with
potential to advance. This exemplary soldier did not take the decision
to go AWOL lightly but left the country…
He returned to the UK
in 2009 with his wife Clare and gave himself up to the military. His
initial charge of AWOL was upped to desertion without explanation a few
weeks later. The difference being two years as opposed to a possible ten
years in prison.
In conjunction with
Stop the War he went public and spoke alongside Malalai Joya, the
Afghani MP who was expelled from the Afghani parliament. He handed in a
letter to Gordon Brown in July 09, and then he spoke in Trafalgar Square
in London Oct 2009, despite orders from his army superiors. He was
arrested in November and kept in Colchester Military Detention Centre
for five weeks.
During this time his
legal support arranged an appointment with a civilian psychiatrist in
London, who diagnosed him with PTSD. Joe was released at a hearing in
December following receipt of this information. Although it was a
necessary appointment, the military did not care to organise its own
report until January.
I knew that Joe was
suffering with PTSD since his return from Afghanistan in October 2006.
I saw that he was not sleeping or eating properly, he was unable to
concentrate and isolated himself from friends. This got worse when he
was told of his impending return to Afghanistan in May 2007.
Two days before the
pre-trial hearing in February the prosecution called to ask if Joe would
offer a guilty plea for AWOL if all other charges were dropped. I
believe the reason for this sudden change was due to Tony Blair’s
appearance at the Chilcot Enquiry on the same day, Friday 29th
January. The potential headlines would not have not been acceptable to
the Ministry of Defence: ‘Joe gets jail, Blair gets asked a few
polite questions’. The current situation is that the desertion
charge and others have been dropped and we are now back at the start
with a charge of AWOL to which Joe now pleads guilty - court martial on
5th March in Colchester.
Joe has an excellent
legal team and we are optimistic about the outcome. The responses from
all over the world have been overwhelming, thousands have signed the
petition, sent cards, emails and letters. We are heartened by the
support of Stop the War, Payday and voices of military, ex military,
students, pensioners, parents and friends of soldiers who want this to
stop and hope that Joe’s stance will make a difference.
When Joe was on his
first tour, I used to freeze when I heard the word “Afghanistan” on
radio or TV. Time would stand still as I waited to hear who and where.
The sense of relief was soon replaced by a flood of guilt thinking about
the family who were receiving the military visit. I still react now to
that same word “Afghanistan”. How many other families and friends
anywhere behave the same way, and in Afghanistan how many mothers have
the same emotion on a minute by minute basis, how much greater is their
concern. And how many have died and been injured there.
71% of British people
at the last poll wanted the troops out and the war to stop. Joe and I
were involved with Refugee Council in the early 90s and have friends in
Afghanistan. If some politician can show me any benefit to UK,
Afghanistan and the rest of the world by the troops’ presence in that
country, I ask them to get in touch and explain it to me.
Glenton interview with Italian weekly
L'espresso (in Italian)