British army accused of covering up 'reprehensible' war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan

British army accused of covering up 'reprehensible' war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan
British soldiers are alleged to have killed civilians, and tortured and abuse detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3 min read
17 November, 2019
One soldier is accused of shooting an Afghani family in their home [Getty]
The British army has been accused of covering up war crimes including torture in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leaked documents seen by The Sunday Times have exposed how senior military commander and ministry of defence officials kept reports of war crimes allegedly committed by British soldiers under wraps.

Military detectives discovered evidence of murders by an SAS soldier, beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch, and deaths in custody, The Sunday Times and BBC Panorama have revealed.

The detectives also uncovered allegations that military commanders falsified evidence in an attempt to cover up such accusations.

Those allegations were strong enough to see one of the SAS' most senior commanders referred to prosecutors for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Evidence of war crimes committed by SAS and Black Watch soldiers came out during two war crimes inquires, Operation Northmoor for Afghanistan and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

But pressure from the ministry of defence, at that time chaired by Sir Michael Fallon, saw the inquires closed before the evidence could come to trial.

Inquiry investigators alleged the evidence had been swept aside for "political reasons". Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, called the closure of investigations "absolutely reprehensible".

"Key decisions were being taken out of our hands," said one investigator. "There was more and more pressure coming from the ministry of defence to get cases closed as quickly as possible."

The revelations come just a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to ammend the Human Rights Act if voted in to the position in next month's general election.

If realised, the pledge would see the act changed to protect troops from legal action.

Johnson's Conservative Party is reportedly also seeking to make it difficult to prosecute soldiers for crimes more than 10 years old, a measure that would exclude many crimes allegedly committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The revelations could also result in an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is obliged to act if countries fail to hold their armed forces to account for alleged breaches of the Geneva conventions.

The evidence

The BBC and The Sunday Times investigation focused on three incidents that allegedly occured in Afghanistan and Iraq and failed to result in meaningful action.

In Afghanistan in 2012, an SAS soldier is alleged to have shot three children and one man in the head at close range as they sat drinking tea in their home.

Both the soldier and his senior officers were referred to a military prosecutor, but no action was taken.

At Camp Stephen in Iraq's Basra, Black Watch soldiers allegedly presided over the widespread abuse of prisoners, which resulted in the deaths of two detainees in 2003.

A probe launched at the time saw no action taken, and a seperate investigation launched by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) in 2010 saw two soldiers investigated but did not result in a prosecution.

IHAT is widely seen as a failure for having failed to produce a single prosecution in seven years. It was shut down in Fallon by 2017, with a Defence Committee report claiming the team had investigated thousands of cases with little credible evidence and put unnecessary stress on accused soldiers.

Investigators, however, put the failure of the inquiry down to political pressure.

A Queen's Lancashire Regiment soldier gunned down an innocent Iraq policeman in Basra in 2003. A senior army officer is alleged to have falsified witness testimony to cover up the incident.

In response to the allegations, the ministry of defence told The Sunday Times: "The service police have carried out extensive investigations into allegations about the conduct of UK forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The independent Service Prosecuting Authority decided not to prosecute any of the cases referred to it."

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