Is Britain guilty of systemic torture in Iraq?

By Chris Ames

Is the question posed by an article in the Observer by Ed Vulliamy and, as the piece explains, is the main question “before a judicial review hearing at the high court in London next week in a claim seeking to demonstrate that Britain broke international laws of war by pursuing a policy of systematic torture”:

The British government will argue in court that this apparent litany of abuse by troops it sent to “liberate” the Iraqis does not warrant a public inquiry, since it was not “systemic”.

But the high court will be asked to rule that this position is untenable given the weight and range of the allegations.

As I have repeatedly mentioned here, the question of whether British troops abused and tortured Iraqi prisoners is one that the Iraq Inquiry has shown no interest in raising. There are two ways of looking at this. One is that the Inquiry is proving to be so long, both in terms of duration and the reported length of its report, that it would probably never report if it looked at issues of human rights abuses. The other, to which I would probably subscribe, is that main reason for the delay is that the Inquiry has been so taken up with addressing the fine detail of the military campaign, from the military point of view and with the intention of producing findings that will be useful for the UK government.

It is entirely clear that the UK government, the Inquiry’s customer, does not want any inquiry that it cannot entirely control looking at the evidence of abuse by its forces in a war that was partly sold on the idea of rescuing the Iraqi people from the abuses of Saddam Hussein, which were according to a dossier published by the Foreign office in December 2002, not just systemic, but “systematic”.

Who says Britain didn’t make things better in Iraq? As Vulliamy reports in a news article on the same story:

The hearing comes just weeks away from the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, and will be counted as a measure of how far Britain can reckon with its own legacy in Iraq. South African archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu last year urged in this newspaper that the then prime minister Tony Blair and others should be prosecuted by the international criminal court over the legality and conduct of the invasion.

“This is the crucial moment of decision”, says Williams[the author of a book on the killing of Baha Mousa]. “This is our last chance to get to the truth of what happened. This is what we demand of others, but we do not demand it of ourselves. What kind of message does that give the world about who we are?”


Just get on with it!

by Chris Ames

In today’s Observer, Catherine Bennett has a piece headed “Chilcot’s continuing silence on Iraq is an affront to us all”. The gist of the piece is not just frustration at the continuing delays, noticeable as the tenth anniversary of the invasion approaches, but a refusal to accept Chilcot’s excuses, including the suggestion that Whitehall’s refusal to allow key documents to be published is to blame.

There must be confidence in “the integrity of its process”, Chilcot insists, in his latest dog-ate-my-inquiry update, as if what is expected from this particular handful of the great and good, selected for harmlessness and discretion, is not merely an advance on the Hutton whitewash, but a recognisable improvement on Holy Writ. There would now be most merit in publication, with a list of the blocked material, the documents to be added online as and when decency prevails.

It’s worth noting that it is now six months since Chilcot wrote to the PM to give his latest update and nearly as long since the Inquiry website was updated with this lack of news.