THE British government will not be able to shrug off the challenge in the House of Lords on Thursday by no fewer than six former Chiefs of Defence Staff. Lord Boyce who was the government's top military adviser during the Iraq war, asserted that Our Armed Forces are under legal siege and being pushed in the direction in which an order could be seen as improper or legally unsound. The Chiefs' move followed the trial at the Old Bailey in April of Trooper Kevin Williams of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment who was charged with murdering an Iraqi civilian after a scuffle. His commandng officer considered that he acted within the rules of engagement but the Crown Prosecution Service thought otherwise and brought the charge; however, the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charge on the first day of the trial. Lord Bramall said that a soldier often has to decide if, in order to safeguard his life and that of his conmrades, he needs to open fire or can safely show more retraint. He added, I am not suggesting the military should ever consider themselves above the law,but the law should be interpreted with close regard to realities on the ground. Other former Chiefs of Staff envisaged soldiers having to call their lawyers before deciding how to deal with a situation and Lord Guthrie said that undeniable damage to the army's trust in the chain of command has occurred and the risk of morale suffering is real. In what was taken as criticism of his former political masters, Lord Boyce suggested that the Forces are being pushed by people not schooled in operations but only in political correctness. He has a point. It is difficult to see how the Armed Forces can function properly if they are looking over their shoulder at legal constraints on their actions all the time. The government should clarify the matter.
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