Iraqis lose bid for torture claims inquiry

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The Independent Online

A group of Iraqi civilians today lost their High Court bid for a fresh public inquiry into allegations of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment by British soldiers and interrogators in Iraq.

Two judges upheld Defence Secretary Liam Fox's refusal to order an immediate, wide-ranging investigation into whether there was systemic abuse, as opposed to ill treatment by "a few bad apples".

Over 200 Iraqis complain their ill treatment occurred between March 2003 and December 2008 in British-controlled detention facilities in Iraq in the aftermath of the invasion.

Ali Zaki Mousa, from Basra, the lead claimant, alleges he endured months of beatings and other abuse in the custody of British soldiers in 2006-07.

Today Lord Justice Richards and Mr Justice Silber ruled that, due to other investigations already under way, they were satisfied human rights laws did not require the Defence Secretary to order an immediate new inquiry.

They warned it was possible it might be "required in due course" - but it was a matter which could "lawfully be left for decision at a future date".

The judges dismissed an application for judicial review brought on behalf of the legally-aided Iraqis by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).

PIL's legal team had argued on their behalf that the investigations already under way were insufficient to meet the UK's obligations to fully investigate under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment.

Lord Justice Richards said the Defence Secretary had "made clear that he is very concerned about the allegations and extremely anxious to establish whether they are well founded and, if they are, to ensure that lessons are learned for the future.

"He does not seek to defend Article 3 ill-treatment of detainees," said the judge.

"He has set up a team, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), to investigate the allegations with a view to the identification and punishment of anyone responsible for wrongdoing.

"He has also set up a separate panel, the Iraq Historic Allegations Panel ("IHAP"), to ensure proper and effective handling of information concerning cases subject to investigation by IHAT ..."

The panel would consider the results of IHAT's investigations, and any criminal or disciplinary proceedings brought in any of the cases.

It would also consider any other judicial decisions concerning the cases, "with a view to identifying any wider issues which should be brought to the attention of the (Ministry of Defence) or ministers personally".

The judge said the Defence Secretary had also pointed to the fact that there already exist two "significant public inquiries" into specific allegations of ill-treatment of detainees in Iraq - the Baha Mousa inquiry, due to report in early 2011, and the Al Sweady inquiry which was at an early stage.

"He has not ruled out the possibility that, in the light of IHAT's investigations and the outcome of the existing public inquiries, a public inquiry into systemic issues may be required in due course.

"He does not consider it appropriate, however, to set up such an inquiry now and he does not accept that it is unlawful for him to wait."

The judge said the Defence Secretary's "wait and see" approach was influenced in part by the "heavy resource implications" of establishing another inquiry now.

He and Mr Justice Silber said in a joint ruling: "It is possible that a public inquiry will be required in due course, but the need for an inquiry and precise scope of the issues that any such inquiry should cover can lawfully be left for decision at a future date."

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