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29 Jul, 2010 04:42

UK’s anti-war campaign bolstered by leaks

One of Britain's largest peace groups, the Stop the War coalition, says the leak of files on the campaign in Afghanistan are so embarrassing it could mark the beginning of the end of the war.

The war reports posted online by whistle-blower group WikiLeaks suggest the situation on the ground is a far cry from the official picture of the conflict.

They include details of civilian deaths at the hands of coalition troops, as well as concerns that Pakistan could be helping the Taliban insurgency.

Joe Glenton is a soldier who said “no” and the first veteran of the war in Afghanistan to break the taboo of speaking out against the conflict – one he calls illegal and unjustifiable. He has some advice for the government:

“I would say listen to the people, it’s as simple as that. Look at what people want, they’re demanding withdrawal. The support’s gone for this conflict, you know, the wheels have fallen off the wagon, as far as the message, which has been so confused from the start. So it’s time to start listening to your public,” he believes.

Glenton joined the army in 2004, and fought for seven months in Afghanistan. He says he came home a changed man, suffering symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, for which he claims he was bullied. When he heard he was being sent back to Afghanistan, he absconded from the army, and did not come back for two years. Initially, his military superiors were understanding, but when Joe spoke at an anti-war rally in London, they upped his charges to desertion, which carries a ten-year prison sentence. Joe’s mother says that action exposes the hypocrisy of the conflict.

“We live in a democracy, we’ve got freedom of speech. We’re fighting to introduce it to Afghanistan, and then they lock somebody up for speaking out. That doesn’t make sense,” says Sue Glenton.

Joe paid a price for his outspokenness – five months in the notorious military jail, the Glasshouse. He thinks the reason it was not longer was to avoid a public outcry, which could have brought on an examination of the war. He served his time along with other soldiers who he says were with him all the way on the stand he had taken.

“In terms of the guys around me, the treatment was unbelievable. There was so much support from my fellow prisoners and so much mail. At one point when it peaked, I think I was getting 200 letters a day, so it was fantastic. The only time I think I felt alone was on the first night when the cell door shut, and after that, I just got recognized by the other guys. It was fantastic,” Joe recalls.

He has become a poster-boy for the Stop the War Coalition

“He shouldn’t have been punished at all. He’s saying what everyone believes and everyone knows. The war isn’t just unwinnable, it’s immoral, it’s a disaster, it’s causing a catastrophe for the people of Afghanistan,” says its activist Chris Lynman. “More and more young British men and women are being sent out to risk their lives for a war that only the politicians support, and even in private, they know it’s a disaster.”

Joe Glenton’s story is key because it comes straight from the frontline, as do the 90,000 documents released this week showing the unvarnished truth of a bloody conflict. And going by Glenton’s account of the support he received from other soldiers during his time in prison, there is dissent inside the armed forces – something the government could have a hard time ignoring.