Three soldiers face probe over Iraq abuse claims

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The Independent Online

Three British armed forces personnel have been referred to the nation's senior military prosecutor for investigation over the alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees, the High Court heard today.

If the Director of Service Prosecutions finds evidence against the three, they could, among other things, face war crimes charges, said a QC.

The referrals relate to the case of Kammash, involving accusations by three Iraqis of ill-treatment by soldiers.

They were mentioned by Philip Havers QC, appearing for Defence Secretary Liam Fox, in a case involving allegations by more than 200 Iraqi civilians that they suffered abuse at the hands of the British in the aftermath of the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

James Eadie QC, also appearing for the Government, said war crimes charges were among a range of options if - "and it is a very big if" - the allegations against soldiers were made good.

Two senior judges, Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Silber, are being asked by lawyers for the Iraqi civilians to rule that a wide-ranging public inquiry is necessary to investigate their accusations that they were abused in British-controlled detention facilities between March 2003 and December 2008.

The Ministry of Defence argued such an inquiry would be costly and unnecessary as it had already set up the dedicated Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to investigate.

Earlier in the three-day hearing, the judges were shown official military videos of British servicemen screaming foul-mouthed abuse and threats at a prisoner.

In the films, the UK interrogators make the detainee wear goggles and earmuffs to deprive him of his sight and hearing, and he complains he has not had anything to eat or drink for two days.

Phil Shiner, solicitor with Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who are representing the Iraqis, described the announcement in court of the referrals of the three soldiers to the Director of Service Prosecutions as "a breakthrough".

Mr Shiner said: "It is plain from the evidence, and in particular from the videos of interrogation sessions, that the UK's interrogators had been trained in Iraq to use coercive interrogation techniques against detainees.

"These constitute breaches of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights as well as constituting 'war crimes' under the relevant domestic criminal law, namely the International Criminal Court Act 2001."

Asked if the case could be described as "Britain's Abu Ghraib", he said: "There are remarkable similarities between everything that we know that the Americans did in Abu Ghraib and what we know from the evidence in this court.

"There are very few things that the Americans were doing in Abu Graib that the British were not doing."

He said those likely to face prosecution would be those who worked as interrogators.

He said: "I believe the interrogators will be prosecuted because much of this is about the interrogation policies and so you're not talking about a great number."