'IRAQ AND THE FUTILE QUEST FOR "JUSTICE" ' [EXTRACT]
In three years and 144 cases, the £5m-a-year team looking into alleged abuses has got only a single soldier punished
By Ben Farmer
Sunday Telegraph – 15 December 2013
A three-year criminal investigation into scores of allegations that British troops killed or mistreated Iraqi civilians has so far resulted in just a single soldier being fined. The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) is investigating more than 140 separate cases of alleged British abuses following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But today it can be disclosed that it has completed only six of them, with just one sanction as a result. The only punishment to have arisen from the work of the £5million-a-year team is one soldier being fined £3,000, case files show.
... IHAT was set up in 2010 to fulfil Britain's human rights obligations to investigate allegations of unlawful killing and mistreatment during Britain's presence in Iraq. The most recent report on its work shows it has 144 cases on its books and only six have been completed ... Nearly 140 cases remain, including dozens of allegations of ill treatment in custody and more than 30 claims that British troops shot dead Iraqi civilians.
IHAT has a staff of 145 including 125 civilian investigators who are mainly retired police detectives, and a £5million-a-year budget until the end of 2016. Legal sources predicted yesterday that the slow rate of progress meant the team would almost certainly overrun and it would be "a considerable number of years" before the cases are resolved.
... Col. Richard Kemp, a former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan, said the Ministry of Defence should be more robust in refusing to investigate cases:
"There are lawyers who are determined to exploit the taxpayer by pushing forward cases that stand no chance of success or are not really going to stand up. The MoD is in a very difficult position. It doesn't appear to have much choice other than to take these allegations seriously."
Julian Lewis, the Conservative MP for New Forest East, said that only the most serious cases, which may amount to war crimes, should be looked into:
"The MoD ought to make it crystal clear what categories of alleged offences make up this very large total. If the majority of these allegations fall short of what would be considered a war crime, then there's something very seriously wrong with a judicial system that opens up our courts to being overrun with lesser allegations."
Military chiefs are also concerned about the encroachment of civilian law into the battlefield. They say that even when British troops had supposedly stopped fighting after the invasion and were training and supporting the Iraqi forces, they were still dealing with a ruthless and deadly insurgency ... A spokesman for IHAT said that as well as the six completed cases, investigators were in discussion with military prosecutors about 18 allegations of unlawful killing and 19 allegations of serious mistreatment ...