The British media is awash with stories about Afghanistan: from fraudulent elections to a lack of military equipment, the long-running conflict is never far from the headlines. But one story is rarely told: that of lance corporal Joe Glenton.
Earlier this year he refused to return to Afghanistan, where he had served in the Royal Logistics Corps, on the grounds that the army was ‘bringing death and devastation’ to the country.
In January he will face a court martial for desertion. He told an initial military hearing in August that he plans to deny the charge and call an expert on international law to argue that the war is illegal.
Glenton is the first soldier to speak out against the Afghan war and if found guilty faces up to two years in prison. The Stop the War Coalition has described his actions a ‘very significant moment’ in the campaign against the conflict.
In a letter to delivered to the prime minister in July he stated his belief that ‘the war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk’ and that he and his fellow soldiers had become tools of US foreign policy.
He said: ‘I believe this unethical short-changing of such proud men and women has caused immeasurable suffering, not only to families of British service personnel who have been killed and injured, but also to the noble people of Afghanistan.’
Glenton is clear that the war is doing nothing to improve the lives of ordinary people in a country shaped by two centuries of imperial conquest. He told the Guardian: ‘I just couldn’t see what we had given to the country. I felt ashamed.’
He has since been gagged by the Ministry of Defence as he awaits trial. In early November he was arrested for speaking at an anti-war demo in London, and could now face up to 10 years in prison.
Tim Hunt spoke to Joe’s wife, Clare Glenton, about her husband’s conscientious objection and his future plans.
What do you think the outcome of the court martial will be?
It’s difficult to say. They may want to make an example out of him and we expect him to do some time. But in Joe’s eyes he will win whatever the outcome – and he is prepared for anything.
What do you think about his decision to take a stand?
I’m 100 per cent supportive. He is an amazing person who has shown incredible strength and courage. I am very proud to be his wife.
Are you glad he is no longer in Afghanistan?
Of course. I am unsure of our reasons for being there and so many people are dying in all the British taxpayers’ names. All troops need to be withdrawn or, at the very least, the government has to start thinking about it now.
How is he and the rest of your family coping?
Really well – we are there for each other 100 per cent. It’s hard to be apart but we know it won’t be for long in the scheme of things.
Is he traumatised by his experience in Afghanistan? What has he said about conditions there?
Being on tour affects people in many different ways. Even though his experience may not have been as difficult as others’, he saw and did things that were upsetting to him, and they will always be with him.
What has been the reaction of his friends in his regiment and other soldiers?
Quietly supportive. A lot agree with him but they are just lads doing their job and don’t really question anything. There are others who are army through and through and get on with the job, be it right or wrong. This is what makes Joe unique, the first of his kind.
Does he see his resistance to the war as a political act or one of compassion?
It’s a mixture of both. Having been there, he has seen the way it has affected the Afghan people and how very little their lives have improved, but he is fighting the government and questioning the legality of the war, so it has a very political angle too.
What will he do next?
Joe plans to go to university to study international relations or political science.
How can people support him?
By thinking about the war and what it means to them. Please send messages to email@example.com. Stand up and be counted. Your opinions are important.
Joe has a preliminary hearing of his court martial on 29 January 2010. Stop the War will organise a picket of the court in support.
This article was first published in Red Pepper’s favourite Manchester freesheet, Mule.
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