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Iraq: Military Families

Relatives in protest as Bill runs aground

Inspired by “Camp Casey” in Crawford, Texas - the protest camp initiated by Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey was killed in Iraq last year - on 18 and 19 October relatives of British soldiers killed in Iraq set up camp outside the Ministry of Defence, opposite Downing Street.

Sheehan had met Rose Gentle at the end of September in the US during three days of anti-war protests - attended by Gentle and other members of bereaved British families. Cindy Sheehan is expected to return the visit in early December.

Legal challenge

Along with supporters, family members and organisers from Military Families Against the War, they gathered to “protest at the political decision to deny the families legal aid in their campaign to bring the Prime Minister to book for the Iraq war”.
    In August, families of 14 soldiers killed in Iraq, represented by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, had delivered papers to the High Court seeking a judicial review of the government's decision in May 2005 not to order an investigation into the legality of the war in Iraq. Speaking at the time, Reg Keys - whose 19-year-old son Tom was killed, said “We strongly feel that our sons were sent into a conflict not backed by international law or the United Nations.”
    After initial hope at receiving legal aid the families were subsequently refused. The group is now attempting to fund the case through public donations.

Visitors

Shortly after the camp was established, a delegation of “anti-war” MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and “Gorgeous George” Galloway, arrived to express their support for the families. Later, flowers were laid outside Downing Street.
    The camp provided a colourful focus in an otherwise dreary and rather depressing environment. Tents in Whitehall are a rare sight.
    After a night under canvas, the campers were joined by Claire Short. The MP for Birmingham Ladywood sponsored the Armed Forces (Parliamentary Approval for Participation in Armed Conflict) Bill. This private member's bill would require parliamentary approval for the participation of British armed forces in armed conflict and would effectively remove the “royal prerogative” by obliging government to provide the reasons and the legal authority for the proposed participation, and subject each proposal to a vote in both Houses.

Shedding tears

In an emotional climax, Claire Short and family members crossed Whitehall to present a letter in support of the Bill - signed by each of them - to Tony Blair.
    The group, several of whom were in tears and holding photographs of those they have lost, held a brief conference for the assembled journalists. Rose Gentle - whose 19-year-old son Gordon was killed by a roadside bomb in Basra in June 2004 - spoke of how each new death in Iraq made her feel more angry and “shed a tear for them and their families”. In an earlier press statement about the camp Ms Gentle said, “Tony Blair has refused to meet me. We were told we would receive legal aid. Now it is denied us. We are being gagged.”

Bill aground

When it received its first hearing on 21 October, the Armed Forces (Parliamentary Approval for Participation in Armed Conflict) Bill ran aground, as Commons leader (and former Defence Secretary) Geoff Hoon effectively “talked it out” - speaking long enough to prevent a vote being taken.
    It will return to the queue of private member's bills and is likely to resurface - if not withdrawn - for another hearing in 2006.

Topics: Anti-war action