The stomach-churning torture revealed by the Iraq war logs is our problem as much as America's
Jim Duffy, Comment is Free - America
The Guardian, Monday 25 October 2010
Six and a half years after the "shock and awe" of the first days of war in Iraq
come the Iraq war logs
. For the Pentagon, they are devastating, documenting in fine detail the indifference with which Iraqi human life was viewed. For the British people, they ought to raise important questions as to what our forces knew.
Aside from questions of complicity, however, the logs also provide an opportunity to properly interrogate a more salient question: how did we treat the Iraqi man, woman and child?
The stomach-churning, systematic torture meted out by the Iraqi police and military is our problem as much as it is America's. In many of the 142 cases in which Public Interest Lawyers acts, UK forces are alleged to have handed over detainees to the Iraqi authorities. This was despite the clear indications that many Iraqi police stations were effectively torture chambers that the national authorities were free to run with impunity. Their cover was provided by Fragmented Order 242, which not only allowed but required coalition forces to turn a blind eye where their own forces were not "responsible".
The problem is that they were, and are, responsible. Across the spectrum of human rights, one freedom has always been accorded a special, peremptory status. The prohibition of torture is incapable of restriction. International law and UK domestic law have long buttressed this absolute prohibition by imposing upon the state an obligation to effectively investigate torture where there are clear indications that it may have taken place. Similarly, the state is precluded from transferring individuals to another state where there exists a substantial risk of torture.
And the war logs reveal that is precisely what happened to the prohibition in Iraq, where the only status it was ever accorded was that of routine. The same can be said of the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of life, whose regular violations were ignored.
But the search for truth must begin at home. Ten days from now, the high court in London will hear evidence of torture and unlawful killing of Iraqi civilians at the hands of British forces. The thousands of allegations presented by our clients point to systemic problems at the heart of the UK military system that necessitate a single judicial inquiry into British detention policy in Iraq. Extreme physical violence, hooding, the use of stress positions, and sleep deprivation were apparently standard operating procedure. Of particular concern are the many allegations of sexual abuse, even male rape. A judicial inquiry along the lines of the Baha Mousa inquiry may be capable of unearthing the true extent of the UK's own abuses, and for that reason the British government is fighting its spectre every bit as aggressively as the Pentagon berates WikiLeaks.
And it does not end there. Aside from the abuses in UK custody, we act for the families of many Iraqis killed in the streets of south-east Iraq. Among them is Hanaan Salih Matrood, an eight-year-old girl who was inexplicably gunned down by a British tank in 2003 while playing in the street with friends. In the culture of impunity that Britain and America had created for themselves, the death of a little girl and the anguish of her family could be swept under the carpet, with the help of a few US dollars.
But the truth about Hanaan and the many other Iraqis tortured and killed indiscriminately will soon have to be addressed. By bringing the constant drip-drip of Iraqi suffering home to us in the way it has, WikiLeaks has underscored the importance of confronting that truth now so that lessons can be learned, justice done, and a bloody chapter in British and American history closed.