Iraq torture allegations may lead to public enquiry

Despite widespread allegations of abuse in Iraq between March 2003 and December 2008, no officer has been convicted

This week, lawyers for 140 Iraqis will ask the High Court to order a public inquiry into allegations of ‘systemic abuse’.

The Iraqis allege they suffered ill-treatment including sensory deprivation, being deprived of food, water and sleep, forced nakedness and sexual humiliation, between March 2003 and December 2008.

Britain’s senior military prosecutor told the BBC that any charges would not be confined to the lower ranks. Commanding officers may be charged with failing to prevent the abuse of Iraqi detainees if evidence comes to light.

Bruce Houlder QC, who heads the Service Prosecuting Authority, the military equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service, told BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action that if he were presented with evidence of abuse by individual soldiers he would look to see whether it was part of a wider pattern.

If, he said, there were ‘cases of widespread abuse over a long period of time, one would need to ask why didn’t this ever come to an end? Why did it go on, if that be the case?

‘The usual answer would be: it was because someone was not stopping it who had the power to stop it.’

The Iraqis’ lawyer, Phil Shiner, doubted whether there would be many criminal prosecutions, if any, because evidence was not gathered at the time. The Ministry of Defence said it did not recognise Mr Shiner’s allegations of systemic abuse.


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