British soldiers should remain subject to the rule of law wherever they served, argues former paratroop colonel

Colonel David Benest CO 2 Para.1994-97 writing in the Guardian…

I have read both the Widgery and the Saville reports into Bloody Sunday, and for reasons not well explained the responsibility of the army chain of command seems wholly absent.

In fairness to the army, most officers and soldiers, for most of the time, have performed commendably in very difficult circumstance between 1969 and 2007 – the formal end of British forces’ operations in Northern Ireland. Some have not. And in the event that a command ethos of brutality and murder takes over, we should not be all that surprised at the consequences. This to me is the essence of Bloody Sunday, where specific orders were ignored, an officer opened fire above Rossville Flats – contrary to law – and then the “Derry effect” of those gunshot echoes probably convinced other soldiers that they were indeed under fire. I am not blaming the then commanding officer, alone, for this insubordination .

The defence secretary, Penny Mordaunt, is attempting to strengthen legal protections for troops facing investigation over alleged historical offences – but veterans of Northern Ireland won’t be covered by this. General Lord Dannatt claims he is serving the interests of the army by challenging the plan in the House of Lords: he argues that Northern Ireland should also be exempt from the law because all theatres of war need to be treated the same. Surely the argument of a former chief of the general staff should be that all cases of serious crime committed by our soldiers be investigated and, if need be, prosecuted – without exception. Only on this basis can high morale and good discipline be ensured.

A comparison with supposed amnesties regarding terrorists is simply missing an obvious point: the armed forces are intended to represent the law in situations where law has been absent through usual means. The problem here is that a prevalent ethos of “regimental loyalty” can supersede all other considerations, and that exposing wrongdoing is thus disloyal – historical accounts of the British army during the Troubles have made this clear. This can only be countered by investing in an ethical education for all ranks of the armed forces. Defence humanists can only agree with this cause.

Later at her excruciating PMQs the hard right MP Mark Francois  quoted a Chelsea pensioner who had served in Northern Ireland

Why, prime minister, are you pandering to Sinn Fein and the IRA while throwing veterans like me to the wolves?

The neat little smear  is doing the rounds on the Tory right  that the government is doing a ” disgusting deal” to continue allowing NI  vets to be open to prosecution as the price of Sinn Fein returning to Stormont. Bonkers of course, like a  lot more  in their overheated minds.


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