War Crimes Dossier Launched At A Packed News Conference

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Platform at Tuesday night’s news conference at the Law Society in London. (L-R) Professor William Shabar, meeting chair Michael Fordham QC, Phil Shiner and Wolfgang Kaleck
Platform at Tuesday night’s news conference at the Law Society in London. (L-R) Professor William Shabar, meeting chair Michael Fordham QC, Phil Shiner and Wolfgang Kaleck

A DOSSIER relating to a complaint delivered last Friday to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court regarding the responsibility of UK officials for war crimes in Iraq, was launched at a packed news conference on Tuesday night.

The complaint deals with ‘The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008.’

Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) have collaborated in presenting the above complaint supported by compelling evidence to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

PIL and the ECCHR have filed the communication to the OTP of the ICC under Article 15 of the ICC Statute requesting that the Prosecutor examine the situation in Iraq from 2003-2008 with regard to the responsibility of UK military and civilian officials for the abuse and killing of detainees in their custody amounting to war crimes.

The communication refers to a bundle of supporting documentation that includes, inter alia, copies of the witness statements and recorded accounts of the Iraqi victims plus documentation from the UK Government which was released in the context of the legal representation by PIL and is now in the public domain.

The ECCHR is an independent, non-profit legal and educational organisation based in Berlin, Germany.

Lawyers at ECCHR have been litigating against American military and civilian officials for the elaboration, authorisation, and implementation of illegal interrogation policies, on behalf of Iraqi and Guantanamo detainees who suffered torture and other crimes while in US detention.

In its work related to the ICC, the ECCHR filed a communication on the situation in the Republic of Colombia in October 2012.

Tuesday evening’s news conference at the Law Society in Holborn, central London was addressed by Phil Shiner of PIL, Wolfgang Kaleck of ECCHR, and international law Professor William Shabar.

Shiner said: ‘This is historic because the UK’s judicial system has brought all the evidence before you.

‘The UK state thought it could get away with all this torture and killling, but it can’t because of the Human Rights Act.’

Shiner proceeded to introduce a video showing UK soldiers using the ‘harshing’ technique in Iraq.

This showed a one soldier shouting in an Iraqi man’s face: ‘You are a bloody Muslim!’ and jabbing his finger in the man’s face shouting ‘You’ll fucking hang for this!’

Shiner said that other torture techniques included food and water deprivation.

He said: ‘Practice used by UK forces in Iraq constitute a war crime.

‘These are what is known as coercive interrogation techniques.

‘They were developed in World War Two and beyond in all post colonial conflicts.’

He went on to say: ‘We have evidence of grave breaches including killing and torture in Iraq.

‘After occupation ended in 2004 the incitement includes serious violations including death and torture.

‘There is no distinction before, during or after occupation up to 2008.

‘Since Baha Mousa (the Basra hotel clerk who died in UK custody at a British Army camp in Iraq with multiple injuries) there are another 113 who have died, 198 in total.

‘Now there are 412 torture victims for which we have evidence.

‘We have managed to uncover another 13 Baha Mousa-type cases – where someone healthy ends up dead.

‘We have failed to get an answer to a simple question.

‘How many deaths are the MoD aware of?

‘The MoD know how many people they detain, they refuse to tell us that information.

‘I know of 1,046 torture cases. There is a mass of material available to the public now.

‘At the Baha Mousa inquiry we were able to see thousands of documents.

‘We were able to see training material from the place in Britain where the interrogators are trained.

‘The main suspect in the complaint is Geoffrey Hoon, who was secretary of state for defence.’

Shiner said a Red Cross report at the time had informed the British commander in Iraq about torture techniques in a British interrogation camp.

Shiner asked: ‘Why did Hoon tell parliament there was no evidence of torture.’

The PIL lawyer went on to give graphic examples from interrogation training manuals and allegations by Iraqi civilian victims, including being stripped naked and humiliated, disorientated, being held in stress positions, sleep deprivation in intense heat, and hooding with rough material.

Shiner stressed: ‘People at the top did nothing about it.

‘There has been psychological trauma, victims have been traumatised as a result of their torture.

‘Systemic abuse involved victims continuing to suffer psychological damage, including thoughts of suicide and self-harm.

‘There have been suicide attempts and examples of self-harm in recent weeks.

‘The foreign secretary (Hague) said this complaint is entirely unnecessary. Is he right?’

Shiner said in the case of Baha Mousa and other cases ‘court maritals got nowhere’.

He stressed: ‘We are concerned here with individual criminal responsibility.

‘After the Baha Mousa inquiry, people walked free.’

Shiner asked: ‘Who is responsible? We are not interested in foot soldiers, we are interested in the people at the top: secretaries of state for defence Geoff Hoon, John Reid, Des Browne, Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram, Bob Ainsworth, Chief of Defence Staffs, top civil servants and MoD lawyers.’There was a disgraceful decision by MoD lawyers not to ask the Attorney General whether these interrogation practices were lawful.

‘Lord Goldsmith said earlier this year he was disappointed that he wasn’t asked.’

In answer to questions, Shiner said: ‘The word Tony Blair does not appear in the document, it concerns the MoD.

‘If the ICC find a trail of documents, which I doubt, it’s a matter for them.’

Wolfgang Kaleck of ECCHR told the news conference: ‘We have filled two complaints in Germany for systemic torture and sending prisoners to Guantanamo, and in Spain. There is something going on in Europe, maybe not enough.

‘We saw this fitting into our grievance with double standards.

‘We are trying to bring ICC prosecutions for cases that aren’t covered by national laws.

‘We are talking about torture, imprisonment and mistreatement.

‘We sent a bundle to the international prosecutor’s office on Thursday.

‘One hundred and nine clients at least who have been tortured or mistreated.

‘Inhumane methods constitute criminal types of torture which may constitute war crimes.

‘The more interesting part is who is responsible.

‘The ICC task is to investigate those with most responsibility.

‘There are two types of criminal responsibility – individual and command responsibility.’

Kaleck said command responsibility ‘is mostly ignored’.

But with the requirement ‘reasonable measures to prevent,’ he said: ‘It’s difficult for secretaries of state to ignore what has happened.

‘It will be difficult to prove that those in leadership did not disregard had happened.

‘A lot of politicians are discussing this right now.’

Professor Shabar told the assembled press: ‘There is strong reason to believe the accused are British nationals.

‘Article 8 deals with war crimes going back to Nuremberg. Abuse of prisoners of war falls into the category of war crimes.’

He added on a gravity qualification: ‘Since 2006 we have a much longer list of allegations.

‘The volume of material will show sufficient ground.

‘These crimes were the consequences of another crime not dealt with in the complaint, the aggresive war on Iraq.

‘Prisoner abuse is unlawful. The UK prime minister acknowledged prisoner abuse in the north of Ireland and said it wouldn’t happen again.

‘People at the top can be prosecuted who knew of crimes and did nothing to stop them or prosecute anyone.’