Tuesday, January 22, 2013

British torture goes to court

Between 2003 and 2008, British forces in Iraq tortured hundreds of prisoners. Now, their victims are taking them to court:

Britain will face fresh charges of breaching international law over the alleged torture and killing of prisoners during the war in Iraq, which began almost exactly 10 years ago. The allegations will be unveiled in the high court, when Britain will stand accused of a "systemic" policy of abuse committed over five years, from 2003 to 2008.

At a hearing scheduled over three days from 29 January, lawyers for 180 Iraqis who claim they are victims of abuse, or that their family members were unlawfully killed, will place a file of statements before two judges presiding over the court in London accusing British soldiers and intelligence officers of unlawful interrogation practices. These include hooding and the use of "stress positions", sexual abuse, beating and religious abuse of illegally detained prisoners. In some cases, the testimonies allege, the torture led to the death of the prisoner.


Shiner's files are deeply shocking. Insults to Islam and sexual depravity feature frequently in the statements: a soldier is alleged to have masturbated over a prisoner, another to have committed sodomy with his finger; female interrogators are claimed to have stripped and feigned seduction in exchange for "information".

Most of the alleged incidents took place while prisoners were in custody, though some occurred during "strike operations" on people's homes, with suspects and their families allegedly subjected to abuse and crude violence. Prisoners who died in custody were invariably said to have done so due to "natural causes", despite beatings and kickings.

Rather than being isolated actions, the result of a few "bad apples", this abuse was the result of deliberate policy. And they have the training manuals and policy documents to prove it. Seeing it all exposed in court will be deeply embarrassing to the British government (which is why they want to institute secret courts and secret evidence for such cases in the future), and that will be worth it. More importantly, it will result in the truth about this ugly phase of history being told. But at the same time, despite all of these well-documented abuses, there has been a remarkable lack of justice. The perpetrators, the torturers and rapists and murderers, and the people who wrote the policies encouraging that torture, rape and murder, and the people who covered up for them, have not been held to account for their crimes. They have not been prosecuted. And they need to be. And needless to say, it all needs to be done in open court, so that justice can be seen to be done.