UK Troops Sent Home for Questioning War
Tuesday 1 April 2003
LONDON, April 1 (Reuters) - Two British soldiers who questioned the legality of the U.S.-led war in Iraq have been sent home from the Gulf and may now face disciplinary action, their lawyer said on Tuesday.
The soldiers were returned to Britain on the eve of the war when they expressed concerns the offensive was in breach of the United Nations charter and it might be illegal for them to follow certain orders, their lawyer Gilbert Blades said.
"They expressed doubts about the legality of the war, about whether they should be called upon to shoot innocent civilians," Blades, a Lincolnshire-based military lawyer, told Reuters. "As soon as they expressed these views to other soldiers they were then removed."
The case could prove embarrassing to the government, which ordered the military into action in the face of heavy public opposition and without a clear mandate from the United Nations.
British authorities in Qatar on Sunday said two of their soldiers were sent home from Kuwait in February on "medical and/or compassionate grounds" but denied the two had refused to fight.
The Ministry of Defence in London said on Tuesday it was not aware of any British soldiers who had expressed concerns about the legality of the war and had been sent home as a result.
"I know the number of people who've been sent back and the reasons for it and that doesn't tie in with any of them," an MoD spokeswoman said.
Blades said the two soldiers had been returned to normal duties at Colchester garrison in southern England and were waiting to hear from the MoD whether they would be charged.
"I don't suppose for one moment when they joined the services they thought they might have to obey an order which might be illegal," Blades said. "The question is whether the order is illegal or not."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair waged a campaign to convince Britons it was legal to enter a U.S.-led war in Iraq without an express resolution from the U.N. Security Council.
Blades said the soldiers had not refused a specific order because they had been removed from the campaign before they were put in a position where they might have to take such an action.
"Naturally the MoD would want to nip in the bud any dissident voices within the service," Blades said.
British newspapers have identified the soldiers as a private and an air technician from 16 Air Assault Brigade -- a frontline unit that has been engaged in heavy fighting in southern Iraq. Blades declined to identify the soldiers.
An official at 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is garrisoned in Colchester, declined to comment on the case.
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