Military police allege cover-up of hundreds of UK war crime cases closed down by government

UK Troops in Afghanistan 2010
Tom Coburg

Claims that UK authorities covered-up hundreds of war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq have been circulating for some years. But a BBC article, published 1 August 2020, revealed that evidence backs up the claim by former detectives that there was a “deliberate policy” to kill unarmed civilians. The article followed a Panorama programme, War Crimes Scandal Exposed, aired the day before and based on an earlier December 2019 broadcast.

“Suspicious killings”

The original Panorama programme reported that “detectives” claim a cover-up by British special forces in Afghanistan of “dozens of suspicious killings during night raids”. It described how one such raid concerned “three children and a 20-year-old man who were killed by a British soldier in 2012 in the village of Loy Bagh in Afghanistan”. It’s alleged the victims were shot in the head.

In an article that accompanied the earlier broadcast of the programme, the BBC added that Royal Military Police (RMP) detectives:

wanted the soldier to be charged with four counts of murder. They also wanted to prosecute the officer who commanded the raid for falsifying a report, along with his boss for perverting the course of justice.

But no one was prosecuted.

Insider source

The UN believes, the BBC reported, that around 300 civilians were killed by coalition forces in similar style raids. Another BBC article reported on alleged torture at Camp Stephen in Basra (Iraq), run by the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. As with the Afghan raid, no one was prosecuted.

Evidence of these alleged war crimes came from “inside” the MOD-funded Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor. IHAT was tasked with investigating “allegations of abuse of Iraqi civilians by UK armed forces personnel in Iraq”. Northmoor was set up in 2014 to investigate alleged “unlawful killings” by UK special forces in Afghanistan.

It’s further alleged that British SAS and SBS snatch squads brought suspects to Camp Nama, Iraq. There they were questioned by US interrogators. Former members of Task Force [TF] 121 and TF 6-26 described abuses that they witnessed at Nama. The British contingent of TF 121 was Task Force Black. Other military personnel at Nama included 657 Squadron of Army Air Corps, and RAF 47 Squadron and 7 Squadron. Detainees at Nama were allegedly kept in “cells the size of large dog kennels”.

ICC investigation

The International Criminal Court (ICC) examined allegations of 259 illegal killings of Iraqis. It’s claimed 47 of these took place when the victims were being held by British forces. Previously, in 2014, the ICC compiled a report of its preliminary investigation into several hundred allegations made against British armed forces.

The ICC report stated:

Alleged crimes [by UK forces] occurred in 14 military detention facilities and other locations under the control of UK Services personnel in southern Iraq. As well as the crimes associated with the Shaibah Logistics Base, the ICC will be examining alleged crimes at the following facilities: ‘The Guesthouse’, Camp Akka, the Provincial Hall and the Civil-Military Co-Operation House, Camp Abu Naji, Camp Breadbasket, the Shatt-Al Arab Hotel, Basra Palace and Camp Bucca.

Alleged treatment by UK forces included:

hooding of detainees; the use of sensory deprivation and isolation; sleep deprivation; food and water deprivation; the use of prolonged stress positions; various forms of physical assault, including beating, burning and electrocution or electric shocks; direct and implied threats to the health and safety of the detainee and/or friends and family, including mock executions and threats of rape, death, torture, indefinite detention and further violence; environmental manipulation, such as exposure to extreme temperatures; forced exertion; cultural and religious humiliation; and various forms of sexual assault and humiliation, including forced nakedness, sexual taunts and attempted seduction, touching of genitalia, forced or simulated sexual acts, as well as forced exposure to pornography and sexual acts between soldiers.

“Whitewash”

On 19 September 2016, IHAT decided to cease investigations into 68 allegations, and on 24 October 2016 to cease investigations into 489 allegations. In February 2017, lawyer Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) was found guilty of misconduct after he admitted paying people in Iraq to “find claimants” with allegations against British armed forces. Of the 1,558 war crimes victims/incidents raised with IHAT, 1,108 had been sourced by PIL. In June 2017 IHAT was closed down by the Conservative-led government.

Much of the focus of IHAT’s investigations had been on the operations of the Joint Forces Interrogation Team (JFIT), based in the Basra area of Iraq. But whistleblower Louise Thomas claimed that the investigations were a “whitewash”. According to the Guardian, she had seen “around 1,600 videos of interrogation sessions, a number of which showed prisoners being abused, humiliated and threatened”.

Six months after the closure of IHAT and ten days after the ICC report was published, the high court ruled that four Iraqi civilians were subjected by British troops to “cruel and inhuman treatment”. This included ‘hooding’, sexual humiliation, and sensory deprivation. The four were awarded £84,000 in compensation; a further 331 claims were settled out of court, with payouts totalling £22m. More than 600 other cases awaited investigation.

Above the law?

In a tranche of previously undisclosed emails, a SAS commander referring to incidents in Afghanistan warned of “indefensible behaviour” by SAS troops that may be “criminal.”

Nicholas Mercer, formerly a lieutenant colonel who listed examples of allegations of torture, commented:

Anyone who has been involved in litigation with the MoD knows that it will pay up only if a case is overwhelming or the ministry wants to cover something up.

RMP detectives claim that what happened with Shiner was “used as an excuse to close down criminal investigations”. There were no prosecutions as a result of investigations by IHAT or Northmoor. Given the accusations by the RMP, perhaps it’s time that the IHAT – and other cases, including those listed by PIL – are re-opened. And this time they should be examined by a truly independent body.

For no one – and no country – should be considered to be above the law.

Featured image via Flickr / Resolute Support Media

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