In a lengthy judgment handed-down today (21 December 2010), the High Court refused to order that a Public Inquiry be established now into the 100s of allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi civilians in British detention and internment facilities in Iraq. Instead, it has allowed more time for the Secretary of State for Defence to carry out his own internal investigations – by the Royal Military Police-lead “Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT)”.
The High Court has however confirmed earlier findings that the allegations do require an investigation compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and that together they also give rise to systemic issues which also require investigation, a point that was not conceded by the MoD. The Court stated:
“The prevalence of certain types of alleged abuse across a range of facilities and over a lengthy period of time raises questions as to whether such abuse, if it occurred, was the result of specific training or of deliberate policy or practice, or of a failure of supervision or inspection.” (para 113)
PIL argued that IHAT had been put in place at the start of 2010 after the judicial review was launched, and that it was a transparent response to the litigation and one which focused on individual soldiers’ culpability rather than an effective means of investigating the systemic causes behind hundreds of allegations that have been made since 2004 onwards. PIL had been calling for an independent investigation throughout that period.
The allegations had centred in particular on the Joint Forward Interrogation Team, a little-known military interrogation unit which had a permanent presence from 2003 to 2008 at the British internment facilities at, respectively, Camp Bucca, Shaibah Logistics Base and the Contingency Operating Base at Basra Air Station. A video of one interrogation session was disclosed in connected proceedings and formed part of the evidence in the case (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/08/servicemen-uk-abu-ghraib-court-iraq). It was only announced during the hearing that War Crimes charges against three soldiers had been referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions in one of the cases, lending further weight to the allegations.
Phil Shiner, the Solicitor for all of the Iraqis said today:
“We are bitterly disappointed, as are the 100s of Iraqi civilians we represent who will have to wait longer for the independent and effective investigation they have been calling for for years. Their accounts detail 1000s of instances of sexual, physical and psychological abuse, abuse that clearly had systemic causes which cannot be investigated by an internal MoD investigation manned by the Royal Military Police. We will appeal this verdict, but it is important to note that the court has not said that a public inquiry is unnecessary. In our view today’s decision only postpones the independent and effective investigation that must surely take place.”
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