Article published in the Daily Mail, 5 January 2016. © Richard Kemp
Time and again in recent conflicts across the world, British soldiers have willingly put their lives on the line for our country.
Yet instead of being honoured for their spirit of patriotism and self-sacrifice, too many of them are now the targets of vexatious legal actions brought by politically motivated, greedy lawyers who undermine the ability of our Armed Forces to protect our national interests.
What makes this betrayal all the more disgraceful is the Government’s failure to stand up to these legal wreckers. Indeed, far from challenging them, Whitehall provides them with funding, staff and judicial backing.
This pathetic collusion represents a complete inversion of morality, with the state now effectively bankrolling relentless attacks on our defenders.
The full extent of this taxpayer-subsidised treachery has been laid bare through news reports about the activities of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, which was set up in 2010 by the Ministry of Defence to investigate claims of ill-treatment and unlawful killings by British military forces.
Initially, the unit was meant to inquire into 152 cases, but now its work has spiralled out of control to more than 1,500 cases.
That phenomenal expansion should hardly come as a surprise, given that the MoD actually pays an Iraqi agent, Abu Jamal, nearly £40,000 a year to handle compensation demands from the supposed victims.
Jamal’s son has boasted that every week his father is now taking on 20 new clients who want to sue the British Government.
Meanwhile, the British troops at the centre of this opportunistic, lucrative witch-hunt have been hung out to dry.
Few of them have ever received anything like £40,000 a year for serving their nation. Now they have the threat of criminal charges hanging over them in a saga that could drag on for years. Indeed, the unit admitted this week that it may well not complete its investigations until 2019 at the earliest.
The Nuremberg trials of the Nazis were completed in just one year, yet the Iraq unit may last more than a decade. That fact alone is an indicator of the institutionalised madness that seems to have gripped the MoD. This whole expensive mess would not exist if the British Government was not supinely paying for it. The cases would soon stop if there was no hope of legal aid or compensation.
As a former senior Army officer who served in Northern Ireland, Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan, I find the whole business a disgrace. This is no way to treat our fighting men. Nor do the legalistic machinations take the slightest account of the brutal realities of a war zone.
It is absurd to pretend the battlefield, with all its danger and death, can be treated in the same way judicially as civilian life. The huge difference between the two is precisely why we have the Geneva Conventions, rather than ordinary criminal law, to govern the conduct of war.
Yet the exploitative lawyers, abetted by the MoD, seek to apply civilian niceties — especially the highly controversial European Convention on Human Rights — to all the recent conflicts in which British troops have been involved.
The Government could have easily stopped this nonsense by stipulating that the Armed Forces have a specific exemption from human rights legislation, just as the French and Spanish governments have done.
But in a shameful attempt to parade their compassionate credentials and appease their Left-wing critics, our ruling politicians have refused to do so.
This Iraqi betrayal echoes the disgraceful case of Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marines sergeant who was imprisoned for the murder of a Taliban insurgent in a battle in Helmand Province in 2011.
The sergeant did wrong in shooting dead a fatally wounded enemy on the battlefield, but his conviction and sentence showed no recognition of the terrible stresses that war inflicts on combatants. It is grotesque that Sergeant Blackman, with his long, distinguished record in the Marines, should be treated as an ordinary criminal.
His case, though, suits the narrative of the lawyers and their agents, who aim to portray the British military as a brutal, cruel and ill-disciplined force.
Anyone with any experience of the Army knows that this is the opposite of the truth. That is why the Iraq unit has not been able to bring criminal charges in a single case, and why a public inquiry found that allegations of British soldiers murdering and abusing Iraqi civilians in 2003 were ‘wholly without foundation’ and ‘entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility’ by Iraqi witnesses.
Accusations of ill-treatment are almost always empty because the British Army instils a duty of responsibility on officers to maintain discipline, including towards the enemy.
I recall how, on one occasion in Iraq, a number of troops under my command were becoming abusive towards a group of Iraqi prisoners. I stepped in and stopped this misconduct before it became serious.
Similarly in Afghanistan —where I was commander of British forces — several of my soldiers were treating some captured al-Qaeda combatants in a manner that did not entirely comply with the Geneva Conventions. Their behaviour was bred of ignorance about the law, but I had a duty to intervene and put them right.
Far from illustrating the savagery of the Army, such cases show there is a structure in place that enforces discipline when it is required. That is why I feel hardly any of the allegations in the Iraq unit’s burgeoning catalogue can be genuine.
Yet still the legal cases drag on, bringing cash for the lawyers and misery for the suspects. Lives will be damaged, careers wrecked, relationships broken.
Yesterday, this paper highlighted the appalling case of decorated soldier Richard Catterall, who served with distinction for more than two decades yet has been under investigation for 12 years for the death of an Iraqi civilian, despite having been cleared twice.
I know of one former soldier who found work as a security guard in Iraq, but has now been forced to give up his job simply because he was named in one of these legal investigations.
It is the same story with veterans of Northern Ireland. The peace process was meant to wipe the slate clean, with a flood of former terrorists released early from prison. But, characteristically, that did not apply to members of the British Army, who remain under endless investigation for deeds committed during the Troubles.
Just two months ago, a former paratrooper was arrested over the continuing inquiry by the Police Service of Northern Ireland into the events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 in Londonderry — something of a bitter irony given that former terrorists from that period are now in government in Northern Ireland.
But it is not just the soldiers who suffer from this judicial farce. Our national security is put under threat because all these accusations against the Army add fuel to the flames of Islamist extremism.
In the mindset of the jihadists, the charges against our soldiers, no matter how base, reinforce the propaganda of victimhood, which says that all Western forces are bullying, anti-Islamic imperialists. In the same vein, there can be little doubt that the lawyers’ antics have encouraged scores of British Muslims to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
That is why it is no exaggeration to say that companies like Public Interest Lawyers, led by the notorious Left-wing zealot Phil Shiner, have blood on their hands. In their remorseless campaign of harassment against the British military, they provide ammunition to our enemies.
These lawyers, I believe, are driven partly by greed, partly by a desire to enhance their reputations. But, surely, by far their greatest motivation is political.
Seemingly filled with loathing for their own country, they want to smash the established order by inventing a gigantic conspiracy in which the British Army is seen as a bunch of assassins and torturers. But the only political conspiracy is their own.
If the MoD had any real guts, it would cut the state funding and bring this legal racket to an end.