Iraq inquiry: International Criminal Court will investigate 'abuse' by UK troops

Some of Britain’s most senior military and political figures came a step closer to facing a war crimes inquiry today, as the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it would make a “preliminary examination” into claims of “systemic” abuse by British forces in Iraq.

The ground-breaking decision by Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the ICC, comes in response to a detailed dossier presented to the ICC in January. New evidence presented in the dossier, revealed exclusively in the Independent on Sunday earlier this year, included allegations of electrocution, mock executions, beatings, and sexual assault.

General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the British Army, former defence secretary Geoff Hoon, and former defence minister Adam Ingram, are among those named in the evidence submitted by Public Interest Lawyers (Pil) and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). More than 400 individual cases are cited, representing “thousands of allegations of mistreatment amounting to war crimes of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

In a statement on its website, the ICC said: “The new information received by the Office alleges the responsibility of officials of the United Kingdom for war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008.” The ICC is to look in detail at the evidence to “ultimately determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation”.

Professor William Schabas, an expert on human rights law, based at Middlesex University, said: “This is a very positive development. It shows the matter is being taken very seriously in The Hague.”

He said that the likes of Mr Hoon, Mr Ingram and Sir Peter Wall “should be very worried” and “can’t assume that, because they are important people in the British establishment, that they are immune from the reach of the law”.

Cori Crider, Reprieve's strategy director, said: “Today’s announcement by the ICC should put the UK and other rich democracies on notice: fail to account properly for war crimes or torture and you could find your officials in the dock at the Hague one day.”

The head of the British Army, Sir Peter Wall, is named in the dossier submitted to the ICC The head of the British Army, Sir Peter Wall, is named in the dossier submitted to the ICC
But in a statement yesterday, Attorney General Dominic Grieve said the Government "completely rejects" claims that British forces had been responsible for systemic abuse and pledged to do "whatever is necessary" to show any allegations were being dealt with within the British justice system. He described British soldiers as ”some of the best in the world” and said “the vast majority” of the armed forces “operate to the highest standards, in line with both domestic and international law.” Mr Grieve added: “I will provide the office of the prosecutor with whatever is necessary to demonstrate that British justice is following its proper course."

The Ministry of Defence did not respond to a request for comment tonight, but General Lord Dannatt, former chief of defence staff, told The Independent: “I fully support the principle that where credible accusations of misconduct by British soldiers are made then they should be investigated and the due process of law be applied to anyone proven to have done wrong.”

He added: “There have been isolated cases of misconduct in Iraq - the Baha Musa case was one example - but I am deeply sceptical that allegations of widespread misconduct and abuse will be upheld. I suspect mischief on the part of those seeking compensation.”

However, Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor for Human Rights Watch, said: “The British military justice system has failed for a decade to properly investigate criminal responsibility in the hundreds of allegations of war crimes in Iraq, especially of senior military and political commanders.”

He welcomed the ICC’s decision and said it “should be taken as a final warning by the UK authorities that they need to ensure proper independent criminal investigations, including of senior military and political commanders now”.

Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers, said: “This is an unprecedented and extremely important breakthrough in a 10 year struggle for accountability for the criminality that was the UK’s detention and interrogation policies in Iraq. The prosecutor has recognised that the gravity threshold has been crossed and that accordingly she must investigate thoroughly whether war crimes have been committed under article 8 of the ICC stature, and if so who was responsible, in particular at the top of the chain of command including; politicians, senior civil servants, lawyers, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Defence Intelligence.”

Former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon (Getty) Former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon (Getty)
Carla Ferstman, director of human rights charity Redress, said: “Until justice is done and seen to be done in all outstanding detainee abuse cases, the ICC most certainly has grounds to pursue allegations of systematic detainee abuse by UK troops in Iraq.  The ICC has jurisdiction if a country is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute.

“To date, the UK has failed to mount credible prosecutions which reflect the extent and gravity of the abuse allegations. In the notorious case of Baha Mousa, a hotel worker who was effectively tortured to death, a court martial judge blamed the weak evidence on a 'more or less obvious closing of the ranks', which prevented all the perpetrators who administered the blows from being identified. Criminal justice is not an optional policy objective but a clear obligation. We hope the renewed interest by the ICC Prosecutor will help ensure that justice is achieved, for the sake of the victims and for the sake of the rule of law.”  

Labour MP Madeleine Moon, a member of the Commons Defence Select Committee, said: “If the ICC has genuine concerns then they must be investigated and I am pleased to see the Attorney General offering to provide all of the information needed by the Court. There is always the risk that the actions of a few, as we saw in the recent Camp bastion trophy photographs, can besmirch the reputation of the many fine disciplined personnel in our armed forces. The suggestion of ‘systemic abuse’ is alarming and one I find difficult to imagine.”

The ICC has previously admitted that there was a “reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhuman treatment” by British forces in Iraq. Yet at that time, in 2006, prosecutors cited the low number of cases as a reason for not mounting an investigation. The years since have seen hundreds of cases emerge, and the decision marks another step along a process which could result in British politicians and generals being put in the dock on war-crimes charges, if the ICC finds sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation under Article 15 of the Rome Statute.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones