The British government and armed forces ensured that war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan that were carried out by the army were covered up new leaked documents show.
The documents, exposed by BBC Panorama, contain evidence that British troops wilfully engaged in killings of children and civilians alongside a campaign of torture.
The year long investigation by the BBC and The Sunday Times contained new evidence from the Iraq Historic Allegations Team that investigated claims of crimes against humanity in Iraq and from Operation Northmore which investigated similar claims in Afghanistan.
The government shut down the operations after claims that solicitor Phil Shiner had presented over 1,000 cases to IHAT after paying clients for stories. Members of the two teams contend that the government used Shiner as a scapegoat to squash the rising evidence of serious human rights violations by British forces. 3,400 cases that were on IHAT’s books were shelved.
The new claims presented by the BBC include murder, beatings, sexual assault and torture by members of the SAS and Black Watch. One case involves the beating, torture and suffocation of two detainees in Iraq for which British military prosecutors decided no one would be prosecuted. Regarding the claims against the Black Watch, the SNP’s defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said that the allegations amounted to gross violations of the Geneva Convention and advised that the International Criminal Court be consulted.
“The ICC said it would independently assess the BBC’s findings and begin a landmark case if it believed the government was shielding soldiers from prosecution”BBC
The International Criminal Court at the Hague says that they are taking the allegations “very seriously” and will now seek to assess the findings of the BBC report with a view to potentially opening a war crimes case against the British government and military, the first-ever such case in the history of the ICC.
“Reports of killings and torture by British troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a subsequent cover-up are deeply troubling. If true, those responsible for sanctioning and carrying out torture and other war crimes, at all levels, must be held accountable and where appropriate, prosecuted. Instead of consistently seeking to sweep these most serious of allegations under the carpet, Britain needs to stand up against torture, uphold its international commitments and show it treats these cases with the seriousness they deserve.”Rachel Logan, Amnesty International UK
Claims of British atrocities in Iraq have been public almost since the 2003 onset of the war, with a 2006 video showing British soldiers abducting 4 Iraqi boys on the street before subjecting them to a serious beating. The video sparked protests in Basra and calls for prosecutions in Britain. As has always been the case, the military closed ranks and the case was dropped.
The best-known case is that of Baha Mousa, a hotel worker from Basra who was tortured and murdered in 2003. Following a public inquiry, it led to the only conviction of a British soldier for war crimes while serving as part of the occupation of Iraq.
“To cover up abuse only undermines Britain’s reputation, military morale, and leaves our own people more vulnerable to abuse by enemy hands in the future. Now ministers must answer these serious charges that they misled the public and stifled war crimes investigations by the Royal Military Police.”Shami Chakrabarti, Shadow Attorney General
Right-wing politicians such as Theresa May and the far-right press such as The Sun, Express and Daily Mail have long endorsed and enabled British programs of killing and abuse, including murder and sexual assault, May blaming “activist, left-wing human rights lawyers” for the claims rather than blaming those carrying out the abuses.
From Northern Ireland to the War on Terror, British abuses have been portrayed as “witch hunts” by a press keen to ensure that British nationalism is not offended by the truth of British imperialism.
This free pass granted by politicians and the press has given the armed forces carte blanche to carry out atrocities without fear of legal retribution as if British colonialism was still in its pomp.
“Over the years, information has emerged indicating widespread, serious abuses of Iraqis in British detention, including assaults, torture and deaths. At the end of the day, the war crimes allegations stemming from the UK’s involvement in Iraq will not go away unless the British justice system shows itself capable of meaningfully addressing them to the highest level.”Balkees Jarrah, senior counsel, Human Rights Watch, speaking to The Independent
Despite the severity of the claims, Boris Johnson is to follow Donald Trump’s lead on western war crimes by granting immunity to the accused. The Conservative government is seeking to introduce immunity from war crimes prosecution for former occupation personnel, essentially a license for the British army to carry out atrocities in the name of the British public.