The British High Court last week opened a hearing into allegations that British troops carried out systematic human rights violations against Iraqi civilians, with lawyers acting on behalf of nearly 200 Iraqis demanding a public inquiry.
Lawyers representing 192 Iraqi civilians claim that British interrogators are guilty of murdering 20 or more Iraqis and torturing others following the so-called “Battle of Danny Boy” in Maysan province, southern Iraq, in May 2004.
Furthermore, they allege that the true number of human rights abuses perpetrated during the UK’s 2003-2009 involvement in Iraq may be far greater, with the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), presenting to the court an 82-page document which it says details the “terrifying acts of brutality” committed by both British and American soldiers. PIL suggests there may be evidence of more than 800 such instances of abuse. More than a thousand Iraqis have complained they were mistreated during that period.
“Enough is enough. There must be a public inquiry in relation to the credible and prima facie cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the British military in Iraq from 2003-09,” Michael Fordham, PIL lawyer, is quoted as saying.
Currently, there are a number of ongoing and separate inquiries into the Iraq abuse claims.
First is the reexamination of the 2003 death of Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel worker whom the military interrogated. The inquiry was started last July and, as noted, is ongoing. A post-mortem examination found that Mousa, a 26-year-old, showed evidence of 93 injuries at the time of his death and a previous inquiry deduced that “a large number” of soldiers had abused Mousa.
Second is the Al-Sweady Inquiry which is looking into allegations, as outlined above, that UK soldiers murdered in excess of 20 Iraqis and tortured others after the “Battle of Danny Boy.”
Investigations are being carried out by the MoD’s own Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) which has been tasked with re-investigating a number of other cases, including the deaths of two men detained by soldiers of the so-called Black Watch in Basra in May 2003. An initial review by IHAT concluded that although preliminary inquiries into the deaths of Radhi Nama and Jabbar Kareen Ali had been made, they had failed to be thorough enough and thus would have to be reopened.
IHAT is also investigating a number of other cases, not least of which is a story uncovered by the Guardian that involved Tariq Sabri al-Fahdawi who, it has been alleged, was kicked to death aboard an RAF Chinook helicopter. The original inquiry was proved insufficient by the Guardian and showed the RAF police had failed to even establish the name of the prisoner, let alone a cause of death.
The Guardian, in its coverage of this latest battle for a public inquiry, also notes that senior military sources had claimed that MoD officials had interfered in the initial inquiry “might result in the disclosure that Sabri al-Fahdawi – and 63 other men – were being taken to a secret detention centre operated by US and British special forces, a facility that had been concealed not only from the Red Cross, but from the British army’s own lawyers.”
The MoD has stated that it will ascertain whether any officials within the department had interfered with the original investigation, but PIL says offers these inquiries are absolutely meaningless because, whether the allegations of an internal MoD cover-up are true or not, there can be no confidence in the MoD’s impartiality when it has made such failures in the past.
A Department of Defense spokesperson is quoted as categorically denying any wide-scale improper conduct by the British Armed Forces, saying that where there is evidence of abuse these are isolated instances and not reflective of the high standards the military expects and feels has been demonstrated by the vast majority of its soldiers.
The High Court’s judgement as to whether a public inquiry is necessary will be issued in the next few weeks. Such a public inquiry would be, in both scope and detail, largely unprecedented.
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