Moral Low Ground

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‘The Moral High Ground’: Michael Lyons, Royal Navy Medic, Jailed for Refusing Training over Afghan Civilian Slaughter

Michael Lyons is no hippie pacifist. He’s served proudly in the Royal Navy for six years, since he was 18, and both he and his wife hail from proud military families. Both of their grandfathers died serving their country; hers as a regimental commander in the army and his as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Lyons, who chose to be a medic because he wanted to help people, was a medical assistant submariner.

Lyons deserves a medal, not metal bars.

But now he’s been dismissed from the Navy and thrown in the brig for seven months for refusing assault rifle training prior to his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. According to the Guardian, Lyons was found guilty of willful disobedience of a lawful order at a military hearing last week. The Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors, which has not heard a case since 1996, had previously rejected Lyons’s appeal for conscientious objector status.

The court martial heard that Lyons refused his pre-deployment assault rifle training and asked to be assigned to a non-combat role. Lyons says he began to object to the nature of his deployment after reading some of the massive Wikileaks document release, the ‘Afghan War Logs’,  detailing Afghan civilian deaths at the hands of US and British forces. “My initial objections started with Afghanistan and I wanted to investigate the reasons why we were at war,” he told the Guardian. “At the time Wikileaks came along and mentioned Iraq and Afghanistan. The reports said there had been some civilian casualties that nobody knew about and they were being covered up. After a lot of deliberation I decided I was a conscientious objector.”

Lyons’s wife Lillian wrote an op-ed piece in the Guardian last December in which she detailed some of the more shocking incidences of seemingly callous civilian slaughter that informed her husband’s decision:

Examples included the convoy of US marines apparently driving down a six-mile stretch of highway firing at everyone they saw: 19 unarmed civilians were killed and a further 50 wounded. Closer to home there were the allegations that Royal Marines had shot innocent drivers and motorcyclists on eight separate occasions over a six-month period, and that Ghurkhas had called in an air strike on a family compound, leaving seven innocents dead. These were just some of the reports.

Even worse, perhaps, was the fact that Lyons was informed that he would not be allowed to treat injured Afghan civilians. “We were put into scenarios and in one of these a family had been walking for two days to our base. The child had a birth defect that was causing it pain and the instructor asked us whether they would get treatment,” he told the Guardian. “I said we would offer them whatever we could, but I was shouted down by an officer who said it was a waste of resources.”

Lillian Lyons says that after her husband came to the conclusion that “he didn’t believe we were over there for the greater good” and decided to become a conscientious objector, his life in the Navy grew difficult. “And so it began,” she wrote in the Guardian, “the Navy mocking the idea he might object to war, the feeling of being ignored, or not being taken seriously.”

Lillian believes that Michael’s status was denied because he is an atheist:

He was ordered to see a chaplain, even though Michael is an atheist, and the chaplin’s statement implied Michael had a slight political reservation, not a moral objection. If Michael had been dishonest and said he was a committed Christian, and because of his faith he could not be part of war on moral grounds, perhaps this would have been over in an instant. So is the navy saying you cannot have a conscience if you are secular?

It certainly appears as if that is the case. What kind of nation jails its citizens as criminals for refusing to take part in what is without a doubt the most criminal enterprise ever invented– war? And not just any war, an American imperial war of choice. Britain was not the least bit affected by the events of September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda’s beef was with the United States, not the United Kingdom. London chose to do George W. Bush’s bidding and loyally follow the United States as it kicked off its so-called ‘War on Terror.’ And what did Britain get in return for its “investment?” Well, tomorrow just happens to be the sixth anniversary of the July 7 terror attacks on London, which killed 56 innocent people and wounded 700 more. Those attacks were direct retaliation for Britain’s participation in the ‘War on Terror.’

If I were a Briton, I would be deeply ashamed of my country, both for its slavish complicity in America’s global reign of terror and for its treatment of Michael Lyons, who ought to be given a medal, not a jail sentence.

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