A public inquiry into allegations that British soldiers in Iraq murdered 20 unarmed prisoners and tortured 5 others has begun in London, with further legal arguments expected to slow the inquiry in the deaths of the Iraqi men nine years ago.
The Al-Sweady inquiry will examine claims that Iraqi prisoners were tortured by British soldiers following the Battle of Danny Boy in Maysan province, southern Iraq in the summer of 2004.
Evidence has also come to light that several of the corpses suffered severe mutilation. Iraqi death certificates recorded that one man had allegedly had his penis removed while another two bodies were missing eyes.
Several of the corpses were also said to have signs of torture when they were handed back to their families by British personnel at Camp Abu Naji.
However, there is major dispute between the British Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the families of the dead Iraqi men over the way in which the deaths occurred.
“The Iraqi witnesses say that the evidence points to there having been a number of Iraqi men having been taken into camp Abu Naji alive by the British military on 14th May, and who were handed back to their families dead the next day,” said Jonathan Acton Davis QC, counsel to the inquiry.
“The military say the evidence points to 20 Iraqi dead having been recovered from the battle and handed back to their families the next day,” he added, continuing that the two sides couldn’t even agree about the number of those killed or captured, or their identities.
On May 14th 2004, the troops embroiled in the allegations were involved in a fierce battle known as Danny Boy, the name of a permanent vehicle check point, which was on route six in Iraq.
A group of insurgents launched an attack against vehicles of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. It soon developed into a fierce firefight, which also involved soldiers from the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, with many Iraqis shot dead and two British soldiers being wounded.
The Iraqi dead would normally have been left on the battlefield but British soldiers were allegedly told to try and identify an insurgent thought to be involved in the murder of 6 British soldiers a year earlier in 2003.
One of the first jobs of the inquiry is to try and establish whether the 20 Iraqis were killed in battle as the MoD claims or if in fact they were captured alive and then unlawfully killed.
The inquiry will also try to determine if five men taken prisoner following the battle of Danny Boy were mistreated at a second British base in Shaibah, near Basara, between 14 May and 23 September 2004.
The al-Sweady inquiry as it is known is named after Hamid al-Sweady, a 19 year old alleged victim.
The inquiry was set up after former prisoners and relatives of the dead men took their case to the High Court in London in February 2008. They are entitled to an independent inquiry because the UK is a signatory of the European convention on human rights.
But even as the enquiry opened on Monday, there were signs of legal disagreements to come. Lawyers for the relatives of the dead Iraqis are saying that its terms of reference are too narrow, while the MoD is arguing that it should be limited to allegations of mistreatment that were already decided in previous High Court rulings.
This is potentially the most embarrassing inquiry since the killing of 26-year-old Iraqi citizen Baha Mousa while in British custody in Basara in 2003. He was severely beaten on suspicion of being an insurgent. The Ministry of Defense never accepted any liability for Mousa’s death.
According to Christpher Stanley of the UK-based Rights Watch group, “today [the MoD] is trying to manage it and put a cap on it. These are people getting away with grave human rights violations – including killing – without punishment or due process of law. “
So far the MoD has not come out well in the proceedings. The inquiry was ordered by then defense secretary Bob Ainsworth, after high court judges found that the MoD had made “serious breaches” of its duty.
Furthermore, British Foreign Minister William Hague has written a private memo to other ministers on March 1, urging them not to discuss Iraq and its legality in the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the NATO-led invasion.
Investigators have faced problems trying to access MoD documents concerning events covering the battle of Danny Boy and at Camp Abu Naj.
In 2010 investigators found in files of the Royal Military Police a number of relevant papers which had been entirely absent from evidence disclosed by the MoD in previous court proceedings. While another 9 files were handed over by the MoD in 2011, a six week search by investigators of MoD archives found 600 documents that were relevant to the case.
Last week the inquiry was still waiting to receive emails from the MoD about a visit to the Shaibah base by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
The inquiry has already cost the taxpayer £15 million and that is expected to double. Up to 200 military witnesses will be called and 45 Iraqis will give evidence through a video link from Beirut.
Families of the victims of British army forces’ indiscriminate shooting at civilians in 1972 that left 14 civil rights protesters dead in Northern Ireland will get £50,000 apiece in compensation from the government.
On January 30, 1972, British soldiers from the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment shot 26 unarmed civil rights protestors and bystanders in Londonderry, killing 14, including seven teenagers.
The British army formerly maintained that the civil rights protestors were armed, had become violent and had instigated a gunfight.
However, following a public inquiry the Prime Minister finally apologized to the families in June 2010, cleared the protestors’ names and said the shooting by the army was an “unjustified and unjustifiable” attack on unarmed protesters.
The British Ministry of Defense has made the compensation offers to the victims’ families but reports said the sums are a not final settlement and could change as lawyers of the families are negotiating them.
The ministry has also included those seriously injured as eligible to receive the damages.
This comes as the offer has angered the families of the victims that say the figure is derisory and an insult to the dead and their relatives.
- £50,000 offer over Bloody Sunday (independent.ie)
- Shooting of unarmed IRA man by British soldiers was unjustified, says official probe (independent.ie)
The UK government is facing more allegations of vicious abuse in its Iraqi prisons during the occupation. Now, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the invasion, lawyers want to prove that the abuse was systemic.
Next week, from January 29, not long before the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, UK lawyer Phil Shiner will present 180 statements to a high court in London. They were gathered in Beirut by Shiner and his Public Interest Lawyers team from Iraqis detained by the British army in southern Iraq between 2003 and 2008. The testimony is shocking, both because of its volume (another 871 statements are still to come), and its sickening detail.
One civilian, known only as Khalid, said, “[A British soldier] then grabbed my penis and dragged me around the floor while holding it. He also made me squat up and down whilst naked and inserted his finger into my anus. I would have preferred to have been killed than subjected to this.”
Another prisoner, named Halim, claimed he was told: “Fuck you and fuck Islam!” by a soldier who then “opened the belt of my trousers and said ‘now jiggy jiggy’. The soldier put his boot in my chest and pulled my trousers down … The soldier put his foot on my chest … lifted me in the air and turned me on to my front.”
Not just ‘bad apples’
These are two of the dozens of descriptions, which feature hooding, sleep and sensory deprivation, mock executions, stress positions, threats of rape of detainees’ female relatives, regular beatings, and religious abuse.
Shiner intends to show that the “bad apples” defense usually peddled by governments in such cases will no longer wash. He will argue that the sheer volume of the evidence he has gathered shows that the abuse was “systemic,” and that, under the European Convention on Human Rights, a full inquiry is required.
“We’ve got the training materials, we’ve got the policy documents,” Shiner told the British Observer newspaper. “Violence was endemic to the state practices.”
Kartik Raj, UK-based campaigner for Amnesty International, agreed. “The allegations of abuse, ill-treatment, and death in custody – some of them are not allegations, they’re proven fact – are so credible and so many, that there really does need to be an independent and thorough investigation,” he told DW. “And it is something that should be looked at as a systemic issue in a systematic manner, rather than a series of individual cases where individuals have to take out a civil action against the government.”
Proving systemic abuse
The importance of proving that such cases are not isolated is shown by the injustice that followed the killing of Baha Mousa. Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, died after just 36 hours of British custody in Basra in September 2003. A British government inquiry into the death found that he had died after having been hooded for 24 hours and severely beaten. He suffered “at least” 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, and died, the inquiry concluded, of a combination of lack of food and water, heat, exhaustion, fear, previous injuries, and the hooding and stress positions. Andrew Williams, a law professor who wrote the book A Very British Killing on the Baha Mousa case, concluded more simply, “He was kicked to death.”
Baha Mousa’s father Dawood Mousa arrives to give evidence to the Baha Mousa Inquiry in London, Wednesday Sept. 23, 2009. Mousa was a 26-year old Iraqi who was beaten and killed in the custody of British troops following a raid on his hotel in the southern Iraq city of Basra in September 2003.
Seven soldiers were charged for the war crime. Six were acquitted or had their charges dropped, while the seventh, Corporal Donald Payne, was discharged from the army, served a year in prison for “inhumane treatment,” while being cleared of manslaughter and perverting the course of justice. The judge, Justice Ronald McKinnon, stated that “none of those soldiers has been charged with any offence simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks.” “A collective amnesia set in,” Williams told DW.
Thanks to the sheer number and the repetition in the new statements collected by Shiner, it seems easy to establish that there was a pattern of abuse during the British army occupation of southern Iraq. According to Williams, who also works as a researcher and legal advisor for the Public Interest Lawyers, “Under international criminal law, it’s not completely required that you have to prove beyond any doubt that a particular person was responsible for setting up a program of abuse.” Instead, Shiner will try to “establish that there is clear evidence… that people in authority knew that it was happening, and yet nothing was done to stop it.”
Some of the interrogation techniques described both in the Baha Mousa inquiry and the new testimonies – including hooding, sensory deprivation, and stressing – were made illegal in Britain in the early 1970s, following a European Court of Human Rights case on the treatment of Irish prisoners.
In this undated still photo provided by The Washington Post on Friday, May 21, 2004, a hooded Iraqi detainee appears to be cuffed at the ankle chained to a door handle while being made to balance on two boxes at the Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. The Washington Post has obtained what it says are hundreds of photographs and short digital videos – as of yet unreleased – depicting U.S. soldiers physically and emotionally abusing detainees last fall in the Abu Ghraib prison.
In light of this, the training materials for British army interrogators, some of which were disclosed in the Baha Mousa inquiry, have become key evidence. But the allusions in those manuals and Powerpoint presentations are vague. “They show that there was a degree of contempt for detainees,” said Williams. “There would be comments such as, ‘Get them naked.’ There are certain indications in these materials that most people would see as abusive in themselves, but they also open the door for soldiers to take the material as a license to invent ways of treating detainees. You need to put together the pieces of a jigsaw.”
The British Ministry of Defense’s answer to all this is that any general questions about abuse were dealt with by the Baha Mousa inquiry, which resulted in 73 recommendations, as well as the ongoing work of its own internal “Iraq Historic Allegations Team.” But this, says Amnesty International’s Raj, is not enough.
“It’s clear that the Baha Mousa recommendations, including the systemic recommendations, are based on a very, very specific time frame,” he said. “I think the new issues have not been sufficiently addressed.”
British soldiers help Iraqi soldiers during the construction of a military base in Basra, southern Iraq on 13 April 2008. Iraqi security forces set up several military bases in areas which witnessed battles between Iraqi security forces and the Mahdi Army in Basra.
“The inquiry only looked at the particular systems in that particular case,” added Williams. “It couldn’t look at the investigation that took place after Baha Mousa was found dead, nor could it look at any other examples of abuse that had come to light. It couldn’t join the dots.”
‘Culture of contempt’
Once they are joined, argues Williams, these dots create an image of what he calls a “culture of contempt” during the occupation of Iraq – including not only abuse of prisoners of war and civilians, but also unlawful killings on the streets.
If the high court does rule that there will be a public inquiry, it could go beyond making recommendations to actually prescribing responsibility. “From an international criminal law position, the answer to the question ‘how high does it go?’ is that it goes to top of government,” said Williams. “But in terms of direct culpability – that’s impossible to know unless you look at individual cases. As to general governmental responsibility, one has to ask who was in power at the time, who was overseeing the way that troops were operating and the means of interrogation.”
The fact that the British government recognizes that there is a problem seems beyond doubt – in December it was reported that over £14 million (16.7 million euros) had been paid out to over 150 Iraqis in compensation for their treatment at the hands of British soldiers. “Why would they receive compensation, unless there was some legitimacy to their complaints?” asked Williams.
British forces in Afghanistan have been accused of killing four boys in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand in October.
According to a report published by the Guardian on Tuesday, a group of lawyers recently sent a letter to British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, demanding that the UK government investigate the alleged killings.
The lawyers, acting on behalf of the relatives of two of the victims, said that during an operation in the village of Loi Bagh in the Nad Ali district of Helmand on October 18, the UK troops shot dead the Afghan boys while they were drinking tea.
The victims were identified as 18-year-old Fazel Mohammed, Naik Mohammed, 16, Mohammed Tayeb, 14, and 12-year-old Ahmed Shah.
The British troops were on a joint operation with Afghan forces.
“We submit that all of the victims were under the control and authority of the UK at the times of the deaths and ill-treatment,” the letter to Hammond read.
“The four boys killed all appear to have been deliberately targeted at close range by British forces. All were killed in a residential area, over which UK forces clearly had the requisite degree of control and authority.”
Major Adam Wojack, a spokesperson for the foreign forces in Afghanistan, has confirmed the operation. However, he has claimed that four “Taliban enemies in action” were killed.
The letter also includes a statement by the relatives of the victims, rejecting “any suggestion that any of the four teenagers killed were in any way connected” to the Taliban. “All four were innocent teenagers who posed no threat whatsoever to Afghan or British forces.”
- British forces accused of killing four teenagers in Afghan operation (guardian.co.uk)
The British High Court has chosen to support the government rather than justice seekers by blocking calls for an official inquiry into British troops’ carnage of 24 Malaysian plantation workers in December 1948.
Relatives of the victims who wanted to challenge the government’s decision not to conduct an investigation into the massacre at Batang Kali said the killings are a “blot on British colonization and decolonization” and blasted the court for failing to order an inquiry despite presence of adequate evidence to justify one.
Judge Sir John Thomas said he sees “no grounds” for “disturbing” the decision by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defense Secretary Philip Hammond to oppose the relatives’ demand for an inquiry.
The killings happened during the Anti-British National Liberation War led by Malayan fighters against British colonizers that killed 2,478 civilians.
“We are appealing. As long as the injustice remains, the families will be pursuing legal action,” said solicitor John Halford, who represents the victims’ relatives.
- Malaysians lose High Court battle over 1948 ‘massacre’ (morningstaronline.co.uk)
New explosive revelations show British soldiers tortured Iraqi civilians who were hooded, stripped-naked and assaulted in secret black jails under direct authority of the Ministry of Defense and in blatant violation of Geneva Conventions on rights of victims of war.
The shocking abuse, sanctioned by the senior Ministry of Defense (MoD) lawyers, was carried out in a network of secret prisons in Iraq, including at a deserted phosphate mine site, after the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, in blatant breaches of international and human rights law.
The torture led to the death of at least one civilian who was beaten to death aboard an RAF helicopter while 63 others remain missing after being flown to a “black site” prison at an oil pipeline pumping station, The Daily Mail reported.
The chief British Army lawyer in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, who should have been informed of the tortures, but was kept “totally in the dark” said the incidents in the secret prisons amount to “war crimes.”
“The allegations are blatant violations of the Geneva Conventions and UN Convention Against Torture. If indeed prisoners were rendered beyond Iraq’s borders, then this is potentially one of the most serious war crimes under the Rome Statute,” Mercer said.
Mercer added that the “prisoner facility operated entirely outside the normal chain of command” and warned the government can deny all charges related to the facility if it manages to get its controversial secret justice plans into the law.
The government is now pushing the Justice and Security Bill through the Commons that allows confidential documents offered by the security services in the courts in defense of itself to be withheld from other parties.
The coincidence of the revelations by a number of victims of the abuse in the secret prisons who are taking legal action with the government’s secret justice plans has raised fears that officials can bury their flagrant violations of human rights and the international law forever.
“I find it remarkable that I knew nothing about it at the time. What is clear now is that, if the Justice and Security Bill does become law, the truth may never come out,” Mercer said.
“These are alleged war crimes, but what Britain did may never be disclosed. Indeed, the Bill may be specifically designed to prevent such allegations ever coming to light,” he added.
- Guantanamo’s Goon Squads Still Torturing Under Obama (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Torture and the CIA (alethonews.wordpress.com)