THE Middle East Eye (MEE) reported on November 21 that the US and British military ran at least two secret prisons in Iraq during the months following the 2003 invasion, effectively concealing prisoners from Red Cross inspectors.
MEE claims that the British army’s most senior legal advisor in the country at the time has filed a criminal complaint to the police about the existence of the so-called black sites.
The legal advisor has alleged that the prisoners may not have been declared to the Red Cross and may have subsequently been rendered out of the country.
This allegation comes on the heels of the BBC’s Panorama programme, which in a joint investigation with the Sunday Times newspaper, interviewed witnesses who said they saw soldiers of the Black Watch regiment in Iraq and Afghanistan kill and torture unarmed civilians, including children.
One of the two secret prisons was inside a joint US-UK forward operating base, known as H1, located at an airfield and oil pipeline pumping station in Iraq’s Western Desert.
The second, outside the town of al-Qaim near the Syrian border, was known to coalition forces as Station 22.
In April 2004, the New Yorker magazine revealed the ‘systematic and illegal abuse of detainees’, including torture and degrading treatment, by US interrogators and guards at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad.
Subsequent to that, many reports have established both UK and US mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners, and published hundreds of gruesome photographs taken by prison guards.
These reports have exposed the widespread abuse and torture of detainees and a number of deaths under detention and interrogation, as well as the concealment of prisoners from International Committee of the Red Cross inspectors.
The newly discovered camps, such as Camp Bucca – perhaps the world’s largest extrajudicial internment camp – were located in the desert surrounded by fences and guard towers.
Prisoners lived in large communal tents in very bad conditions. Temperatures in these desert conditions can be scorching hot in the day and cold at night and the area is subject to sandstorms.
There were regular reports of abusive treatment of detainees by guards. Most of them had been detained without warrant, held without charge, and had no opportunity to defend themselves in a trial.
The latest allegations about possible British war crimes in Iraq comes in the wake of repeated allegations of abuses committed by UK forces in Northern Ireland and other combat theatres.
- The International Criminal Court says it might open an investigation into the war crimes committed by the British military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The development comes after the British media released an investigation, suggesting that the government had covered up the killings of civilians by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While prime minister Boris Johnson has denied any claims of war crimes by the British Army, human rights experts have consistently argued otherwise.
Anti-war experts also argue of the potential importance of an ICC case in influencing the future actions of the armed forces and also in bringing about justice for families of dead civilians.
If the criminal court that is looking at war crimes allegations seriously does decide that there is a legitimate case, the move would be the first of its kind
While the Ministry of Defence says it has no case to answer, human rights experts have always maintained that the UK army must be held accountable for its actions abroad.
Meanwhile, China says the US is seeking to ‘destroy’ Hong Kong, the ex-British colony, by indulging ‘violent criminals’ who have plunged the international financial hub into turmoil for the past six months; China is threatening Washington with retaliation.
Since June, Hong Kong has been engulfed by mass protests, initially triggered by a controversial extradition bill, which was eventually shelved due to a growing public display of anger.
The protests, however, have continued and taken on an increasingly violent form, with masked individuals vandalising public and private property and attacking security forces and government buildings.
The anti-government demonstrators now want complete separation from mainland China.
Beijing has time and again named the United States and Britain, the former colonial power in Hong Kong, as the main inciters of the protesters through statements of support.
On Tuesday, the US Senate passed a bill titled the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, compelling Washington to support anti-government protesters in Hong Kong and to impose sanctions on Chinese officials allegedly responsible for what the bill called human rights abuses in the territory.
A day later, the US House of Representatives passed the Senate version of the bill by a 417-1 vote and sent it to the White House, awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.
Chinese authorities had warned Congress against approving the legislation.
With overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle, the bill, if signed by Trump, will potentially complicate the administration’s talks with Beijing to put an end to a persisting trade war.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lambasted the US Congress, saying the so-called bill ‘indulges violent criminals’ and aims to ‘muddle or even destroy Hong Kong’.
He condemned the bill as ‘naked interference in China’s internal affairs’.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman pledged that Beijing would ‘take effective measures to resolutely fight back’, giving no details.
The Chinese government has repeatedly said that it might intervene, even militarily, if Hong Kong spirals out of control, and China’s state media said the US legislation would not change that calculation.
‘Some may expect this to deter Beijing. Such thinking is naive,’ the Global Times said.
Hong Kong has been governed under a ‘one-country, two-system’ model since the city was returned to China in 1997.
China has warned Taiwan that the self-ruled island is courting ‘disaster’, after the running mate for incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen in upcoming elections said he was working for Taiwan’s independence, a red line for the Chinese government.
On the weekend, Tsai chose former Taiwanese premier William Lai as her vice-president candidate in the elections due to be held in January, hoping that their Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which is in favour of formal independence, would emerge victorious in the polls.
Lai said on Monday that he was a ‘realistic worker for Taiwan independence’, noting that Taiwan was already a sovereign ‘nation’ called the Republic of China, its official name, and not ‘attached’ to mainland China.
Lai’s comments, considered highly provocative by Beijing, were echoes of the remarks he made in April last year, when he told the parliament he was a ‘Taiwan independence worker’ and that his position was that Taiwan was a sovereign, independent country.
His earlier comments prompted Beijing’s wrath, to the point that the Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily, said at the time that Beijing had to issue an international arrest warrant for Lai to face prosecution under China’s 2005 Anti-Secession Law.
Tsai herself has previously spoken of independence as well.