British soldiers engage the Taliban

This new outrage against British troops makes me wish our leaders had half the guts our soldiers do

Article published in The Daily Mail, Tuesday 4 July 2017. © Richard Kemp

Over recent years successive governments, both Labour and Conservative, have indulged in a shameful betrayal of our armed forces.

The very people who risk their lives to protect our country’s interests have been subjected to a relentless campaign of persecution, dressed up as legal investigation into abuses.

Disgracefully, the politicians have not only sanctioned this continual harassment but even encouraged it through vast legal aid subsidies and compensation payments.

Almost all the allegations of maltreatment brought against British troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out to be baseless.

But the reluctance of the Government to combat vigorously this stream of empty charges has created its own cycle of exploitation by ‘tank-chasing’ lawyers and their clients.

In Iraq alone, the Ministry of Defence forked out £20 million to more than 300 claimants to avoid court hearings, even though it spent more than £100 million on legal fees.

This week, a whistleblower who worked for the law firm Leigh Day — at the forefront of pursuing allegations of abuse by British military personnel in Iraq — alleged that many of these settled claims were not merely exaggerated: they were utterly fraudulent.

According to this person, a favourite lawyers’ ruse was to persuade clients to alter their stories about detention, pretending they had been held by the British even if they had been taken by the Americans.

The reason for this alleged change was simple: lawyers knew the MoD was ‘an easy target’, whereas the US military was more robust.

In the account of the whistleblower, many Iraqi claimants ‘had documents referring to the American forces at the time’ but knew they could not sue the US, so they said: ‘OK, let’s make it the British.’

Indeed, the informant says, ‘it was easy money, like taking a piece of cake. Every one of us were looking at the British treasure’. The allegations are strongly denied by Leigh Day.

Nevertheless, that statement should bring shame on our defence chiefs and politicians. They blather about upholding the law, but have created a system which means claimants are lavishly rewarded for humiliating our fighting men and women.

Every detail of this saga represents an affront to basic morality and national pride.

One of the Iraqi translators was the Manchester-based businessman Mazin Younis, whose services were used by Leigh Day and by Public Interest Lawyers, run by disgraced human rights campaigner Phil Shiner, who was struck off as a solicitor this year for making false claims against British troops.

Reportedly, Younis was paid £1.6 million in 2009 for supplying clients to Shiner’s company as well as to Leigh Day.

The sum is another monument to the MoD’s refusal to defend its people. Sadly, the Iraq fiasco is not an isolated case, for the government’s enfeeblement has created an atmosphere that fuels witch-hunts against our military.

Only at the weekend it was revealed that elite SAS troops are under investigation over accusations that they executed unarmed Afghan civilians in cold blood.

Among the incendiary charges are that the SAS used fake photography to conceal civilian deaths, falsified reports and planted Taliban weaponry on victims to disguise them as insurgents.

As Max Hastings argued powerfully in the Mail yesterday, all charges of misconduct must be examined, especially such serious ones. But based on my own long military experience, this episode does not have the ring of truth.

I had SAS soldiers operating under my command in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, and I always found them highly trained, controlled and disciplined. The alleged behaviour does not match anything I have seen of SAS activity.

Such a criminal conspiracy could only have been enacted with orders from the top; we have seen not a shred of evidence to support such a plot, just as there is none to support claims of Iraqi abuses.

Yet the circus continues, driven forward by ministerial edict and underwritten by the taxpayer. This is partly down to the power of the political agenda. Phil Shiner is a left-winger who patently wanted to undermine the services.

Similarly, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — Marxist revolutionary, IRA sympathiser, and unilateral nuclear disarmer — jumped on the anti-army bandwagon by calling for an independent inquiry into alleged SAS ‘war crimes’.

With the same zeal with which he once denounced the recapture of the Falklands, he declared that ‘there can be no question of a cover-up’.

But other, less radical, politicians have been almost as bad. Senior figures in both main parties like to parade their supposed virtue by showing their eagerness to take up cases against our troops.

That is very different to the US attitude, which holds that the real virtue lies in the defence of their military.

The supine British attitude explains why the MoD was so determined to hound Royal Marine sergeant Alexander Blackman for killing a Taliban fighter, not only by securing his conviction for murder — rightly overturned — but also by resisting his appeal.

The political impetus behind the pathetic surrender to the lawyers has been accelerated by two other factors.

One is the notorious Human Rights Act of 1998, which has become a cash cow for money-grabbing lawyers, political activists and vexatious litigants. Social justice warriors might benefit from the act, but real warriors lose out.

The second is Britain’s membership of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, agreed by Tony Blair’s government in 2001.

He was warned that it would result in UK military personnel being placed in the dock simply for doing their duty; nevertheless he went ahead.

To the outrage of ‘progressive’ opinion, the US refused to join the International Court, because it did not want its soldiers to come under the jurisdiction of foreign regimes, or its military campaigns to be an arena for litigation.

As the latest Iraqi farce illustrates, British officialdom is trying to apply the legal niceties of peaceful civilian life to the lethal conflict and chaos of the battlefield.

The result is not justice, but a bonanza for lawyers and their clients. A central reason for this flight from common sense is that so few politicians, civil servants and even senior officers have any hardened experience of war.

Over my years as an officer, I was disturbed to witness how many cases the MoD settled against litigants without a fight, even when the accusations had no foundation. The argument was always that going through the courts was too expensive, so the taxpayer was saving money.

I did not believe that then, and, after this week’s revelations, I know it is even more untrue. This pusillanimous outlook inflicts more damage on our armed forces than any court action could achieve.

In effect, those who fight for the Queen’s colours see our government colluding with foes. That partly explains why recruitment is in crisis and morale badly deflated.

The willingness to settle also gives credence to allegations of abuse. That in turn provides more ammunition for our foes. In practice, therefore, the judicial white flag is a catalyst for more violence.

The folly will never end until British interests are given priority. If only our leaders had the same guts as the serving men and women now under scrutiny.