Wednesday,20 June, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Wednesday,20 June, 2018
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

British war crimes at the ICC

Allegations of war crimes carried out by British forces in Iraq have been sent for investigation to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, writes Felicity Arbuthnot in London

Al-Ahram Weekly

A “devastating” 250-page document entitled “The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008” has been “presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and could result in some of Britain’s leading defence figures facing prosecution for ‘systematic’ war crimes” the (London) Independent on Sunday has revealed.
The dossier charges that “those who bear the greatest responsibility” for alleged war crimes “include individuals at the highest levels” of the British army and political system.”
Among those named, the newspaper states, are two former UK Defence Ministry supremos, Geoff Hoon and Adam Ingram, defence secretary and minister of state for the Armed Forces, respectively, under former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s premiership and during the planning and invasion of Iraq and for most of the UK occupation. General Sir Peter Wall, head of the British army, is also named.
Shocking allegations have been compiled from the testimonies of 400 Iraqis, the newspaper reports, “representing thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The document, lodged with the ICC at The Hague on 11 January, “calls for an investigation into the alleged war crimes under Article 15 of the Rome Statute” and is the result of some years of work by the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers group and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). The submission “is the most detailed ever made to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor on war crimes allegedly committed by British forces in Iraq,” the newspaper says.
In 2006, the ICC opined that “there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhuman treatment.” However, since the claims represented fewer than 20 cases, prosecutors declined to mount an investigation.
Subsequently, “hundreds of other claims have come to light, prompting consideration of the complaint now. It is the start of a process which could result in British politicians and generals being put in the dock on war-crimes charges,” the Independent says. The “pattern of abusive treatment by UK services personnel in Iraq continued over almost six years of military operations.” When is a crime not a crime, one wonders? Only when it reaches double figures?
Evidence is presented in the report of “the systematic use of brutal violence that at times resulted in the death of detainees while in the custody of UK services personnel.” The two law bodies behind the report claim that “there is evidence of brutality combined with cruelty and forms of sadism including sexual abuse and sexual and religious humiliation” with widespread use of “hooding” and prisoners forced into excruciating “stress positions, sleep deprivation, noise bombardment and deprivation of food and water”.
All such techniques were banned under the government of former UK prime minister Edward Heath in 1972 after being used by British forces in Northern Ireland. However, it is claimed that UK forces used these illegal techniques “in a variety of different UK facilities [in Iraq]… from 2003 to 2008.” After September 2007, the British stated that they only had a small military contingency force remaining in Iraq that was designed to help train Iraqis.
The alleged torture was apparently compounded by “failures to follow-up on or ensure accountability for ending such practices [which] became a cause of further abuse. The obvious conclusion is that such mistreatment was systematic.”
The Independent quotes William Schabas, an expert in human rights law, to the effect that “what this application does is throw down the challenge to the Court to show there are no double standards. There is definitely a case for an investigation by the ICC.” He suggested that there was “no doubt” of war crimes committed by British forces in Iraq. “People should be worried,” he said.
According to the UK Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, allegations of abuse carried out by UK forces in Iraq have been or are being investigated through various channels, including legal ones. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there was no need for the ICC to become involved.
The ICC has recently come under fire on allegations that it only puts Africans on trial and ignores other alleged human rights abuses. ECCHR Secretary-General Wolfgang Kaleck told the Independent that “with the current communication to the ICC we want to move forward the criminal prosecution against those political and military leaders in the UK who bear the most responsibility for systematic torture in Iraq,” adding that “the International Criminal Court in The Hague is the last resort for victims of torture and mistreatment to achieve justice.”
“Double standards in international criminal justice must end. War crimes and other severe violations of human rights must be investigated and prosecuted, regardless of whether they are committed by the most powerful,” he said.
According to Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, the actions of British officials involved in the invasion, planning, execution and occupation of Iraq needed to come under investigation by the court. “I think we easily meet the threshold for these issues to be looked at, I would be gobsmacked and bitterly disappointed if they don’t look at this.”

The writer is a journalist and activist who has written and broadcast on Iraq and has been nominated for several awards. She was senior researcher on journalist John Pilger’s award-winning documentary Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq.

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