A military court has sentenced a former solider to nine months imprisonment for refusing to participate in military action in Afghanistan after he developed a conscientious opposition to the war.
Joe Glenton, 27, was sentenced in Colchester yesterday morning (5 March) after being convicted of going “absent without leave” from the British army. The judgment has been condemned by peace and civil liberties campaigners.
However, an earlier charge of “desertion” – which carries up to ten years’ imprisonment – was dropped at the last moment. There has been speculation that the authorities wished to avoid a long and potentially embarrassing trial discussing the ethics and legality of the war.
Although Glenton joined the army in 2004, his view changed after fighting in Afghanistan for seven months. In 2007, he refused orders to re-deploy to the country.
"Over the course of his seven months… his experiences began to conflict with what he had been told," said Glenton’s barrister, Nigel Wrack in the military court today, “More and more he began to see the [armed] conflict in Afghanistan was wrong”.
UK law allows the armed forces to require their employees to commit themselves to working for them for several years, with no right to leave after a notice period, as is usually obligatory in other employment.
Glenton’s case has attracted particular controversy since he spoke at an anti-war rally in London in October.
Wrack said that his client had been bullied by a superior and accused of cowardice when he expressed his concerns about returning to Afghanistan.
Wrack also pointed out that Glenton had been ordered to return to the war zone only nine months after leaving it, whereas the army’s own guidelines recommend an 18-month gap. In addition, a psychiatrist gave evidence that Glenton was experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after his participation in armed conflict.
A spokesperson for the Stop the War Coalition denounced today’s ruling, saying “Joe Glenton is not the person who should be facing a jail sentence. It should be the politicians who have led us into disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
After leaving prison, Glenton hopes to take up a university place as a mature student, to study international relations.