Gov­ern­ment de­nies war crime ‘cover-up’

Cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions must be in­ves­ti­gated, but we need to be clear that they are rare, not the norm

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Henry Bod­kin and Cal­lum Adams

The Gov­ern­ment has de­nied al­le­ga­tions of the tor­ture and mur­der of civil­ians by Bri­tish sol­diers in Iraq and Afghanista­n. Do­minic Raab, the For­eign Sec­re­tary, told The Andrew Marr Show: “All of the al­le­ga­tions … have been looked at by the Armed Forces’ pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties be­cause we want to have ac­count­abil­ity where there’s wrong­do­ing”. Ac­cord­ing to BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times, leaked doc­u­ments in­di­cate in­ci­dents were cov­ered up by se­nior of­fi­cers.

MIN­IS­TERS have de­nied a “cover-up” of al­leged war crimes in­volv­ing the tor­ture and mur­der of civil­ians by Bri­tish sol­diers in Iraq and Afghanista­n.

Mil­i­tary de­tec­tives have re­port­edly in­ves­ti­gated a 2012 SAS raid on a com­pound in Hel­mand province where three “un­armed” chil­dren and a young man were shot dead, as well as the al­leged “daily” abuse of pris­on­ers by the Black Watch reg­i­ment in Basra in 2003, and the fa­tal shoot­ing of an Iraqi po­lice­man in the same year.

Ac­cord­ing to BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times, leaked doc­u­ments in­di­cate the in­ci­dents were cov­ered up by se­nior of­fi­cers and only cur­so­rily in­ves­ti­gated by Royal Mil­i­tary Po­lice.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors on the Iraq His­toric Al­le­ga­tions Team (Ihat) and Op­er­a­tion North­moor – for Afghanista­n – were then put un­der pres­sure by the Min­istry of De­fence (MOD) to wind up the in­quiries, it is claimed.

Yes­ter­day the Gov­ern­ment de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, with For­eign Sec­re­tary

Do­minic Raab telling The Andrew Marr Show that the pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties for the Bri­tish Armed Forces were “some of the most rig­or­ous in the world”.

“All of the al­le­ga­tions that had ev­i­dence have been looked at by the Armed Forces pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties be­cause we want to have ac­count­abil­ity where there’s wrong­do­ing,” he said.

Ihat was shut down in 2017 after it emerged that the dis­graced so­lic­i­tor Phil Shiner paid fix­ers in Iraq to find clients. But some for­mer Ihat and Op­er­a­tion North­moor in­ves­ti­ga­tors have now said Mr Shiner’s ac­tions were used as an ex­cuse to close down the in­quiries.

Ihat spent around three years in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ac­tions of the Black Watch in 2003, when the unit was re­spon­si­ble for polic­ing and se­cu­rity in the south­ern Iraqi city of Basra.

The team re­port­edly gath­ered ev­i­dence that at least two de­tainees were un­law­fully killed at Camp Stephen.

De­spite al­legedly pho­tograph­ing one of the men, Radhi Nama, in hos­pi­tal with in­juries, RMP in­ves­ti­ga­tors al­legedly ac­cepted the sol­diers’ ac­count that he had died of a heart at­tack. Dur­ing the 2012 SAS raid on the vil­lage of Loy Bagh near Camp Bas­tion, one Spe­cial Forces sol­dier re­port­edly en­tered a side build­ing and killed four young in­hab­i­tants.

Ac­cord­ing to the leaked doc­u­ments, he told su­pe­ri­ors he fired be­cause they were stand­ing up with what looked like weapons, de­spite bul­let marks sug­gest­ing they were sit­ting when shot.

The doc­u­ments al­lege a se­nior SAS com­man­der emailed In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force head­quar­ters de­scrib­ing the raid as Aghan-led, thereby avoid­ing an RMP probe.

An MOD spokesman said: “Al­le­ga­tions that the MOD in­ter­fered with in­ves­ti­ga­tions or pros­e­cu­tion de­ci­sions re­lat­ing to the con­duct of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanista­n are un­true.

“Through­out the process, the de­ci­sions of prose­cu­tors and the in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been in­de­pen­dent of the MOD and in­volved ex­ter­nal over­sight and le­gal ad­vice.”

My heart sank when I read the front page story yes­ter­day about al­leged Bri­tish Army war crimes in Iraq and Afghanista­n. “Here we go again,” I thought.

It is al­ways easy to make al­le­ga­tions, but it is very dif­fi­cult to dis­prove them. In any sen­sa­tional story, it is in­vari­ably the first word that peo­ple be­lieve. Of course, I am dis­mayed by the ap­par­ent emer­gence of ev­i­dence im­pli­cat­ing Bri­tish sol­diers in the mur­der of chil­dren and the tor­ture of civil­ians that may have been cov­ered up by mil­i­tary com­man­ders. But are th­ese the rep­e­ti­tion of pre­vi­ous dis­cred­ited al­le­ga­tions? Oth­ers have re­acted more strongly, as they are per­fectly en­ti­tled to do, think­ing that things must have gone hor­ri­bly wrong in Iraq and Afghanista­n on a wide­spread scale ap­par­ently in a crim­i­nal way. Let me ex­plain why both of th­ese re­sponses are jus­ti­fied. Get­ting to the truth of th­ese mat­ters is im­por­tant not just for the peo­ple of Iraq and Afghanista­n but for the morale and rep­u­ta­tion of the Bri­tish Army.

I am in no doubt that the vast ma­jor­ity of op­er­a­tions that mem­bers of the Bri­tish Army en­gage in are car­ried out cor­rectly and within the Law of Armed Con­flict, the Geneva Con­ven­tion and within our na­tional law – and not just be­cause I was an officer in the Bri­tish Army for 40 years. Most Bri­tish sol­diers get up in the morning to do their duty ac­cord­ing to the law and within the best traditions of our mil­i­tary. One of the six core val­ues of the Bri­tish Army that all sol­diers have been ed­u­cated in for the past 20 years is re­spect for oth­ers. This is key, and is taught as the means of fight­ing bul­ly­ing, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and abuse of power on de­ployed op­er­a­tions – whether over­seas or, pre­vi­ously, in North­ern Ire­land.

But in any or­gan­i­sa­tion, things can go wrong, some­times very wrong. More­over, no one is above the law and ev­ery­one in the Bri­tish Army is ac­count­able un­der the law. When a cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tion of wrong­do­ing is made then it ab­so­lutely must be in­ves­ti­gated; when ev­i­dence is dis­cov­ered sub­stan­ti­at­ing those al­le­ga­tions then charges should be laid and tested in a court of law. If con­victed, a sol­dier or officer – ir­re­spec­tive of rank – should ac­cept the find­ing and the sen­tence of that court. There are no ex­cep­tions.

That said, it is clear that the way in which the ac­tiv­i­ties of the Bri­tish Army in North­ern Ire­land, Iraq and Afghanista­n have been por­trayed has tilted the bal­ance of com­mon fair­ness against hon­ourable and dis­ci­plined sol­diers. The Iraq His­toric Al­le­ga­tions Team (Ihat) was set up in 2010 un­der huge pres­sure from vex­a­tious and largely false ac­cu­sa­tions against Bri­tish sol­diers de­ployed in Iraq, made by the now struck-off lawyer, Phil Shiner, and oth­ers. The Min­istry of De­fence was fright­ened by the thought of cases be­ing taken to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court and ab­jectly went along with the Ihat in­ves­ti­ga­tions. The same ap­plied in Afghanista­n and, lat­terly, has ap­plied to the legacy of the Trou­bles in North­ern Ire­land, although there are sep­a­rate and other is­sues at stake over North­ern Ire­land, and this is not the place to dis­cuss them specif­i­cally.

It was only when po­lit­i­cal and public pres­sure was placed on the MOD that the then sec­re­tary of state for de­fence, Sir Michael Fal­lon, pulled the plug on Ihat and the sim­i­larly investigat­ive Op­er­a­tion North­moor in Afghanista­n. He was right to close those in­quiries down. At the time he did so there had only been one suc­cess­ful pros­e­cu­tion re­lat­ing to Iraq gen­er­ated by the Ihat work – that of an in­ves­ti­ga­tor who had il­le­gally posed as a po­lice­man.

Although Sir Michael was right – and although my heart sank this morning – noth­ing changes the ba­sic fact that when there are cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions against Bri­tish sol­diers, backed by ev­i­dence, charges should be laid and a trial held. But we must be clear that this is the rare ex­cep­tion and not the norm.

Let Panorama have its hour in the spot­light. But ask your­selves this ques­tion: is this typ­i­cal of the Bri­tish Army, or are th­ese iso­lated in­ci­dents where a few sol­diers used bad judg­ment, acted con­trary to their train­ing and the Army’s val­ues and stan­dards and were, per­haps, poorly led?

No one is above the law. Where al­le­ga­tions can be sub­stan­ti­ated and com­pelling ev­i­dence pro­duced, then con­vic­tions and sen­tences should fol­low. But the vast ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish sol­diers are not thugs and mur­der­ers.

Read more at tele­ opin­ion

Gen­eral the Lord Dan­natt was Chief of the Gen­eral Staff from 2006 to 2009

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