Demands for inquiry into Iraq torture claims

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The Independent Online

Claims that more than one hundred Iraqi civilians were tortured and abused by British soldiers must be fully investigated at an independent public inquiry, the High Court was told yesterday.

The allegations, made between 2003 and 2009, include cases of murder, electric shock, torture and sexual abuse at 14 UK-run detention centres in Iraq. Michael Fordham QC, for the Iraqis, told the judges that it was now clear that there were "systemic" failures that need to be investigated about the treatment of detainees.

"There are lessons to be learnt about what happened, at whose hands and by whose authority," said Mr Fordham, who has been instructed in the case by Birmingham-based solicitors Public Interest Lawyers. In their skeleton argument, the lawyers said the allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis to be considered by an inquiry should include banned Army techniques, such as hooding, which had become so widely tolerated that they are "implicitly sanctioned" by the Ministry of Defence.

In reply, the Government has told Sir Anthony May and Mr Justice Silber that the 102 claims can be property dealt with by the newly established Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT). But the IHAT will only investigate allegations of criminal misconduct by individual members of UK forces and will not address the alleged systemic abuses so that lessons could be learnt for the future, argued Mr Fordham. The case continues.

In a separate development yesterday, the Government gave way to calls for an inquiry into allegations that British intelligence staff were complicit in the torture of terror suspects held abroad.

David Cameron told MPs the Government would also offer compensation to those wrongly held at Guantanamo Bay. In a Commons statement, the Prime Minister gave details of new guidance for intelligence and military personnel on how to deal with detainees held by other countries, making clear they must never take any action where they know or believe torture will occur.

Mr Cameron said the allegations about mistreatment had "overshadowed" the reputation of the security services. But the inquiry, to be chaired by the intelligence services commissioner Sir Peter Gibson, will not be a full public inquiry, although some of its hearings will be in public.

Gareth Peirce, the solicitor representing many of the former British Guantanamo inmates, said last night: "When the state has been involved in wrongdoing, there is in the public interest an absolute necessity for openness and completeness in facing up honestly to what has been done.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "The Prime Ministerial statement leaves room for considerable anxiety about the adequacy of the new Government's proposed model."