Robert Verkaik: Ministers can no longer afford to ignore abuse by the Army


Saturday 17 July 2010 00:00 BST

The Government was quick off the mark to order an inquiry into Britain's alleged role in the torture of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. But ministers have shown no such urgency in answering similar calls for a single judicial investigation into claims that British soldiers have been directly involved in the torture of prisoners.

The horrifying case of Baha Mousa, kicked and beaten to death by British soldiers in 2003, shows that if only a handful of the 100 Iraqis alleging abuse are found to be telling the truth, the political fallout will swamp anything uncovered by an inquiry into complicity in torture.

Instead of openly confronting this scenario, a succession of defence secretaries, up to and including Dr Liam Fox, have dismissed any suggestion that there might be something rotten at the core of the British Army.

They have chosen to fight each case on its individual merits, rejecting out of hand the allegations of systemic abuse.

If ministers have their way, the final investigations into the alleged abuses carried out by British soldiers in Iraq will not be completed until 2030, long after any of the guilty parties are around to account for their actions.Yesterday judges gave the clearest indication yet that the courts are running out of patience and ordered that the issue should proceed to a full hearing as soon as possible.

The Baha Mousa inquiry, which has been running for almost two years, is a strong reminder that a piecemeal approach to tackling each of the 100 cases individually will lead to intolerable delays.

More significantly, Mousa has already helped to dispel the myth that the ill-treatment was the work of one or two rogue soldiers. Ministers must listen to what the judges are telling them about directly confronting allegations of torture.

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