This, in turn, led to the hapless soldier being brought to trial for murder at the Old Bailey.In the end, the case was dismissed. Yet, the legal process was very slow, and Trooper Williams had to live in fear of imprisonment for murder. The maladministration in this case led to unfounded wider worries about the ability of commanding officers to deal with indiscipline in their troops.We can take comfort from the detailed report this week into Iraqi civilian casualties since the intervention. Trooper Williams had been investigated following the shooting of an Iraqi in 2003. Unfortunately, there had been a blunder in the army legal advice, which led to the overturning of his commanding officer's decision to dismiss the charges against him. British servicemen are protected because of our legal system. Properly handled cases will remain within the military chain of command, and, where there is a case to answer, will come to trial by court martial.One recent case brought concerns in the military to a head.
The ICC only swings into action when a state does not have a proper investigation and legal system to deal with allegations. They worry that the military discipline system will disappear, and that we might find soldiers standing trial in the Hague This is all alarmist nonsense. While the Geneva Convention shaped the behaviour of the military in the past, the International Criminal Court has given teeth to the international community. The United Kingdom has also taken the European Convention on Human Rights into national law, and this has to be taken into account by the military legal system.Meanwhile, our major ally, the United States, has not ratified the International Criminal Court treaty, and this is often taken as an enviable example by senior officers.
British forces have found themselves deployed on operations much more often since the end of the Cold War. They have to switch from fierce war-fighting to humanitarian relief operations overnight, and the rules of engagement change abruptly. Their actions are reported, and judged, around the world by television and internet in an instant.Over the same period, international law has become stronger. Even more importantly, such abuses lead to greater resentment among the population and feed insurgencies.So why the excitement now? A number of factors have come together. Once we try to justify a lower standard, we are on a slippery slope. We have seen at Abu Ghraib where an ambiguous message from above can lead. Regimental associations are up in arms about what they see as a lack of government support for their soldiers when allegations are made against them.