On 3 August, Lance Corporal Joe Glenton of the Royal Logistic Corps appeared at a military court centre in Bulford camp, near Salisbury in Wiltshire, for a preliminary hearing. Glenton, from York, joined the army in 2004 but went absent without leave in 2007 after serving with the Royal Logistic Corps in Afghanistan.
He handed himself in after two years and six days' absence, during which he went to south-east Asia and Australia.
He is now facing charges of desertion, and could face up to two years in prison if convicted. The Guardian reported that military prosecutor Gemma Sayer told the hearing Glenton could face a further charge, though she did not give details. She said the Royal Military Police would interview him in the afternoon in connection with this second matter.
Sayer said the prosecution was not prepared to accept a plea to any lesser charge, such as absence without leave. Other members of Glenton's regiment, some of whom are currently still serving in Afghanistan and in Kuwait, are to be called as witnesses.
On 30 July, Joe Glenton delivered a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He writes:
Dear Mr Brown,
I am writing to you as a serving soldier in the British Army to express my views and concerns on the current conflict in Afghanistan.
It is my primary concern that the courage and tenacity of my fellow soldiers has become a tool of American foreign policy.
I believe this unethical short-changing of such proud men and women has caused immeasurable suffering not only to families of British service personnel who have been killed and injured, but also to the noble people of Afghanistan.
I have seen qualities in the Afghan people which have also been for so long apparent and admired in the British soldier. Qualities of robustness, humour, utter determination and unwillingness to take a step backwards.
However, it is these qualities, on both sides, which I fear will continue to cause a state of attrition. These will only lead to more heartbreak within both our societies.
I am not a general nor am I a politician and I cannot claim any mastery of strategy. However, I am a soldier who has served in Afghanistan, which has given me some small insight.
I believe that when British military personnel submit themselves to the service of the nation and put their bodies into harm's way, the government that sends them into battle is obliged to ensure that the cause is just and right, i.e. for the protection of life and liberty.
The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there.
I do not believe that our cause in Afghanistan is just or right. I implore you, Sir, to bring our soldiers home.
Joe Glenton is believed to be the first serving soldier to speak out against the government's policy. He said that a Nimrod crash in 2006 was a key event which left him disillusioned with the war during his first tour of Afghanistan. Fourteen men were killed when an RAF Nimrod spy plane exploded over Afghanistan on 2 September 2006, shortly after undergoing air-to-air refuelling.
Penalties for desertion and absence without leave and for other military related crimes are regulated in the Armed Forces Act 2008. According to section 8, desertion can be punished with life imprisonment if the aim was to avoid a period of active service, otherwise with no more than two years imprisonment. Being absent without leave can also be punished with imprisonment of up to two years (section 9).
Sources: The Guardian: Alleged British army deserter appears at court martial, 3 August 2009; BBC: Soldier takes war protest to PM, 30 July 2009; France24: British soldier faces trial for desertion, 3 August 2009; Armed Forces Act 2006, 8 November 2006