The true covenant between the military and its government is that it will serve it loyally, without fear or favour. If necessary, it will march and fight and die for policies or causes that it does not necessarily understand or support. Theirs is not to reason why.
This is wrong1 - an appalling misunderstanding in fact - in two very different ways. He is talking about military discipline, enshrined in law since the Naval Articles of War were first published in 1653, which is not not "the military covenant". The military convenant is, in addition to pay, what the government or the nation gives us back in return for, amongst other things, s12 and s15 of the Armed Forces Act 2006. It is our "right" to be treated fairly and humanely by our own hierarchy (who don't actually have to obey the Geneva or Hague conventions when dealing with us.)
Secondly, and Nuremberg and modern "Law of Armed Conflict" (LOAC) training makes it clear - it is ever soldier's responsibility to question the legality of their orders. Just because an elected politician gives them, rather than a military superior, makes no change to the validity of that questioning.
Then, I came across this "interesting" comment on Jack of Kent's blog:
David McIntosh said...
I wonder what an American serviceman's contract says about reporting war crimes committed by fellow servicemen: "Accidental death by friendly fire," a la Pat Tillman? And for leaking war crimes by fellow servicemen that the military itself won't prosecute: "52 years in jail," a la Bradley Manning? Will you find out for us, Jack?
For a start, neither American nor British serviceman have employment contracts - surprisingly to us, few American workers do. Hence some of their confusing practices such as "faire at will" (which has a interestingly different military meaning). The test for leakers, or many other breaches of militray regulations is, as a matter of US federal law (the Uniform Code of Military Justice, in this case) whether:
such conduct being prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces and being of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.
Which is an interesting test - is leaking creditworthy or discreditable? That begs a per-case answer. Which is, as far as I am aware, what the justice system exists to provide. That, in the manning case at least, the information was classified therefore there is an additional and corollary charge with strict liability, doesn't make the credit test less fascinating.
It also outlines a dreadful delusion common amongst the "chattering classes" - that everything that goes wrong, and certainly every criminal act, in a war is a "war crime". They aren't. Friendly fire deaths are dreadful - possibly even a tragedy. But neither Pat Tillman's death nor the pathetic cover-up are "war crimes" - according to any of the evidence I have seen. The death may well just have been a dreaful mistake in the fog of war - the cover-up may have actually been an offence "being of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces" - but it is still not a war crime.
Harrowing that the Apache video is - I certainly think the commentary recorded was objectionable - there is considerable dispute as to whether even the second shoot was wrong (as a matter of LOAC - clearly killing kids is morally a bad thing) never mind a "war crime". The van was not marked with any of the protected symbols for health workers. I'm afraid that "shit happens" in fire-fights and when your enemy does not wear any clearly identifying symbols and insists on fighting in populated areas, the risk to civilians is higher. Not nice but, unfortunately, unavoidable. And not every civilian death is a crime. And not every criminal civilian death is a "war crime".
1. Ed notes: There is room for a perfectly valid discussion as to whether the coalition's desire to enshrine the Military Covenant in statute law is either sensible in principle or, in practice, they are going about it the right way. Personally, I think the former is doubtful and, as far as the latter goes, this is so clearly a piece of political theatre that we don't need to even consider the correctness of the drafting or the underlying intent - we can dismiss it all, out of hand, as flim-flam and start looking for the chicanery this misdirection is intended to hide.