Holding firm to a moral obligation


Friday 23 October 2009

I am the wife of Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, who is a serving soldier in the British army. He is an Afghan war veteran and has been charged with desertion after refusing to obey orders to redeploy to Afghanistan in 2007.

For most of the last eight years since the invasion of Afghanistan I, like many other British citizens, have felt detached from the realities of the situation.

It always seemed to be a war that affected other people. It seemed so far away and distant.

Since I met my husband this has changed.

All that has happened to me and Joe over the last two years stands as a shocking testament to the nature of this conflict. It leaves me humbled and ashamed because the same injustices being forced upon Joe are being forced upon the people of Afghanistan, only thousands of times more savagely.

I realise that while Joe stands to lose his liberty for nothing more than fulfilling his legal and moral duty, the people of Afghanistan have lost and will continue to lose much more as long as this occupation continues. They are victims of terrible crimes.

The British and US governments have done an excellent job of dehumanising the people of Afghanistan.

Joe is determined to rehumanise them because he believes his legal and moral obligation as a soldier and a human being is to protect the international community.

That is, all people everywhere, regardless of imposed boundaries. That is the oath he took.

While in Afghanistan he realised that he and his comrades had been hired out like mercenaries to US foreign policy.

The threat of court martial has tested us to our limits.

But the experience has only strengthened our convictions, particularly with the astonishing amount of support we have received from all over the world both in and outside the military.

I have been honoured and inspired by the people I have met along the way, such as Afghan politician Malalai Joya, a woman the same age as me but born into an utterly different world. And Moazzam Begg, a man submitted to the most horrendous treatment imaginable but has borne it with such dignity. And by the encouraging words of Rose Gentle and Graham Knight, who have both lost a son in recent conflicts.

As the mother of a serving soldier, Joe's mum has experienced the dread of hearing the word "Afghanistan" on radio or TV. Time stands still as you listen and hope that it is not your loved-one named. Then there's the guilt that follows knowing that some other family is about to experience a knock on the door.

Some 221 families know this feeling and 9,000 others are still listening.

The prime minister has almost casually assured us there will shortly be more troops deployed.

What is also disturbing is the concealed numbers of Afghan casualties, as though they are not relevant, dismissing the fact that they have families too.

The court martial is set for early in the new year.

In September we set a precedent and won the first victory with the withdrawal of two extra charges which had been conjured up to gag not only Joe but all British servicemen and women from telling their stories and expressing their views.

I don't know what the immediate future holds for Joe and me, but we are convinced that we have not only the moral high ground but the legal high ground.

This is an edited version of a speech given by Clare Glenton to a Stop the War meeting in Hackney, east London, on Thursday night as part of a campaign to end the war in Afghanistan.