Appeal Against Fox’s Refusal To Hold Public Inquiry Into Torture Of Iraqis

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The battered body of Baha Mousa after he was seized by British forces in southern Iraq in September 2003
The battered body of Baha Mousa after he was seized by British forces in southern Iraq in September 2003

THE Court of Appeal will on Monday 18th July 2011 commence a three-day hearing to consider the lawfulness of the refusal by Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, to hold a public inquiry into allegations of torture and inhumane treatment of Iraqis by British forces.

The claim, in which the court will consider allegations made by 142 Iraqis, is headed by Ali Zaki Mousa who was detained by British forces between 24 November 2006 and December 2007.

He was held at British detention and interrogation facilities at Basra Airport and Shaibah Logistics Base.

He was held in solitary confinement for 12 days, stripped naked, deprived of sleep, held in stress positions, beaten and suffered a broken jaw, threatened with rape, and subjected to such lengthy interrogations that he collapsed.

Liam Fox accepts that a public inquiry may be necessary but that a decision on any such inquiry ought to await the outcome of criminal investigations by the Royal Military Police in the ‘Iraq Historic Allegations Team.’

The cases of three interrogators have already been referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions on charges of war crimes.

The Claimants argue that an investigation by soldiers in the Royal Military Police into allegations of widespread abuse in British detention facilities cannot possibly be said to be independent.

An independent investigation, such as a public inquiry, is required by law.

Moreover, the allegations by the 142 Iraqis paint a strikingly similar pattern of abuse.

There are crucial questions of why such abuse occurred, who ordered it, and what lessons need to be learned. Those questions are apt for a public inquiry.

Phil Shiner, solicitor, of Public Interest Lawyers said on Friday: ‘I’m not surprised that the MoD wants to put off holding a public inquiry in an attempt to kick all of this into the long grass.

‘But abuse by British interrogators in Iraq was serious and systemic and in clear violation of the law.

‘It raises troubling questions that must be promptly answered by a public inquiry.’

Sam Jacobs of Public Interest Lawyers added: ‘Asking soldiers in the RMP to investigate soldiers suspected of abuse is the response of a government happy to hide what happened in British interrogation facilities.

‘It is no comfort to the Iraqi victims who suffered terribly and now seek, and deserve, an independent public inquiry.’

A European Court ruling that UK troops in Iraq were bound by human rights law should pave the way for a public inquiry, lawyers have said.

Judges at the Strasbourg court said soldiers overseas were bound by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The decision came after relatives of six Iraqis – who it is alleged were ill-treated by British troops – took the UK to court.

The UK argues the convention does not apply to troops serving outside Europe.

Four years ago, the House of Lords – now the UK Supreme Court – ruled there was no UK human rights jurisdiction surrounding the deaths or wrongful detention of six civilians.

But it accepted UK responsibility under the convention in the case of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, because he was in a British military building in Basra at the time of the alleged brutality which led to his death.

The latest judgement effectively extends the remit of the convention.

The judges said that in the ‘exceptional circumstances’ when UK forces assume responsibility for security in parts of Iraq, they remained under rules obliging signatory member states to safeguard the right to life and liberty.

The relatives of those who died – apart from Baha Mousa – were awarded £15,200 (17,000 euro) each in damages, and a total of £44,700 (50,000 euro) in costs and expenses.

The court ordered the UK government to pay the seventh man – 54-year-old Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda – damages of £22,400 (25,000 euro) and £35,700 (40,000 euro) in costs and expenses.

Reacting to the verdict, lawyers representing those who brought the case said it was a ‘historic day’ for human rights in Europe.

Public Interest Lawyers said in a statement: ‘The immediate ramifications for the Ministry of Defence are highly significant.

‘The court’s ruling means that a whole host of Iraqi victims, previously prevented from accessing justice, are now finally to seek redress for their abuse.

‘For the first time, they will be able to go to the High Court in London and force Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, to order a public inquiry into the actions of British soldiers in their cases.’

Head lawyer Phil Shiner added: ‘This is a monumental judgement. Today is a historic day for human rights in Europe and beyond.’

The cases before the court all involved incidents between may 2003 and June 2004 when the UK was an occupying force in Iraq.

Three victims were shot dead or shot and fatally wounded by British soldiers during patrols or raids, and another died during an exchange of fire between a UK patrol and unidentified gunmen.

A fifth was allegedly beaten and forced into a river where he drowned, and the sixth was Baha Mousa, who was seized by members of the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment.

He was taken to a British military base where he was beaten and died of asphyxiation with 93 injuries on his body.

The seventh victim, Mr Al-Jedda, is a British and Iraqi national now living in Istanbul.

He was arrested in October 2004 on suspicion of terrorist involvement in Iraq, and taken to a detention centre in Basra run by British forces. He was released more than three years later without charge.

Amnesty commented that ‘Following two landmark judgments from the European Court of Human Rights yesterday, Amnesty International is once again calling on the UK authorities to act decisively to ensure accountability for actions of UK armed forces and officials in Iraq for alleged human rights violations.

In the first of the two cases, Al-Skeini and Others v the United Kingdom, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK was required by the European Convention on Human Rights to conduct independent and effective investigations into the killing of six civilians during security operations carried out by UK soldiers in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

The Court found the UK had failed to ensure such investigations in five of the six cases, in violation of article 2 (right to life) of the Convention. Significantly, the Court rejected arguments by the UK that the Convention did not apply to the UK’s operations because they occurred outside the UK’s ordinary territory. The Court held that the fact the UK was an occupying force over the territory in question and therefore exercised public powers there meant the Convention applied.

Such a situation, the Court held, was one among a range of scenarios where the Convention applies outside the ordinary territory of European states. (Another example the Court cited was where a state exercises effective physical power and control over an individual by taking him or her into custody, somewhere else in the world).

In the second of the two cases, Al-Jedda v the United Kingdom, the European Court found that the prolonged internment of Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda, for more than three years in a detention centre in Basra, Iraq, run by British forces, violated his right to liberty and security under the European Convention.

The UK claimed that Al-Jedda was not entitled to the protection of the European Convention at all. It argued that the United Nations alone was legally responsible for the detention, since, it argued, UK forces were acting as part of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, under a specific mandate from the UN Security Council.

The UK also argued that, even if it was legally responsible for the detention, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions authorised internment and this would override any contrary obligations the UK had under the Convention.

The Court rejected the UK’s arguments, finding that it was indeed legally responsible for Al-Jedda’s internment by its forces, and that nothing in the UN mandate disentitled him to the protection of the ECHR. The Court therefore found his internment to violate article 5 (right to liberty and security) of the Convention.