Scots soldiers cleared of torture and murder in Iraq

A Warrior people carrier that was shown at the the Al-Sweady Inquiry. Picture: PA
A Warrior people carrier that was shown at the the Al-Sweady Inquiry. Picture: PA
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BRITISH soldiers have been cleared of torture and murder allegations but found guilty of mistreating nine Iraqi detainees following a fierce battle a decade ago.

The five-year judge-led al-Sweady inquiry, which has cost the taxpayer almost £31 million, concluded in its final report that the murder and torture claims were the product of “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.

The report was highly critical of the claims it was initially set up to investigate – that the Iraqi detainees had been tortured, mutilated and murdered following the three-hour gun battle that became known as the Battle of Danny Boy on 14 May 2004 near Al Amarah in southern Iraq.

It found that British forces, from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment, responded to a deadly ambush by insurgents with “exemplary courage, resolution and professionalism”.

And it suggested that some of the detainees – all described as members or supporters of the Mahdi Army insurgent group – consciously lied about the most serious allegations to discredit the British armed forces.

However, it also said that the conduct of some of the soldiers towards the detainees breached the Geneva Convention.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the report had shown beyond doubt that all of the most serious allegations were “wholly without foundation”.

He told MPs the report “puts to rest once and for all these shocking and, as we now know, completely baseless allegations”.

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Delivering his final report after a process which began in November 2009, inquiry chairman Sir Thayne Forbes found there had been instances of ill-treatment during “tactical questioning” of the detainees at Camp Abu Naji (CAN), near Majar-al-Kabir in southern Iraq, on the night of 14-15 May.

These included blindfolding the prisoners, depriving them of food and sleep, and using threatening interrogation techniques contrary to the Geneva Convention. The former High Court judge also criticised British soldiers for “tasteless trophies” such as striking poses for photos with detainees.

Sir Thayne wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that the conduct of various individual soldiers and some of the procedures being followed by the British military in 2004 fell below the high standards normally to be expected of the British Army.

“In addition, on a number of other occasions, my findings went further.

“I have come to the conclusion that certain aspects of the way in which nine Iraqi detainees, with whom this inquiry is primarily concerned, were treated by the British military, during the time they were in British custody during 2004, amounted to actual or possible ill-treatment.”

Lawyers representing the alleged victims’ families had already admitted during the public inquiry that there was no evidence of unlawful killing.

But they stood by claims that detainees were mistreated at CAN and later at Shaibah logistics base. Commenting on claims that British soldiers murdered, mutilated and tortured detainees, Sir Thayne said: “The work of this inquiry has established beyond doubt that all the most serious allegations, made against the British soldiers involved in the Battle of Danny Boy and its aftermath and which have been hanging over those soldiers for the last ten years, have been found to be wholly without foundation and entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility.”

The inquiry chairman said allegations by eight of the nine detainees that they heard and saw evidence that Iraqi men were beaten, tortured or executed near CAN were “conscious and deliberate lies”.

He added: “Furthermore, having regard to how much of the evidence of these eight detainees was in common, it appears likely that their various falsehoods are the product of active collusion between them and possibly between them and one or more third parties intent on discrediting the British forces.

He also rejected claims that Iraqis killed or taken into custody were unarmed civilians, finding that they were probably members or volunteers of a Shia insurgent group which ambushed British forces. “I am satisfied that amongst those armed men were the 28 men who were killed in the fighting and whose names appear in the report,” he said.

“Also amongst those armed men were the nine detainees who were later captured and detained by British troops at various locations on the battlefield.

“It is very likely that the nine detainees took part in the ambush and the resulting battle as actual members of volunteer supporters of the Mahdi Army.”

The judge also found there was no evidence to back up allegations of ill-treatment at Shaibah, including use of stress positions and the pretence that detainees were at Abu Ghraib.

His report, which will now be laid before parliament, makes a number of recommendations including improvements to arrest records in the battlefield.

The inquiry is named after Hamid al-Sweady, a 19-year-old student whose father Mizal Karim al-Sweady claimed he was murdered after being detained.

The inquiry was ordered by then-defence secretary Bob Ainsworth in November 2009 amid concerns from High Court judges that the MoD had not properly investigated the events of May 2004.

Timeline

• May 14 2004: The Battle of Danny Boy, a firefight between British soldiers and Shia insurgents takes place at a checkpoint near the town of Majar-al-Kabir, Maysan.

• May 15 2004: 20 bodies are returned to Iraqi families by British forces.

• May 17-19 2004: The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) visits the British detention centre. Allegations of mistreatment emerge. ICRC doctors accept there are grounds for concern and call on the British to investigate.

• May 19 2004: Armed forces minister Adam Ingram informs Tony Blair of the allegations.

• May 20 2004: Royal Military Police (RMP) permitted to question soldiers and get evidence.

• October 2007: Judicial review proceedings are issued.

• April 2009: The Government denies any wrongdoing on behalf of the soldiers and says the Iraqis were killed during the gun battle.

• July 2009: A review by Manchester police into the RMP’s investigation finds it failed to collect forensic evidence, ignored key witnesses and did not ask Iraqi witnesses relevant questions.

• August 2009: A judicial review begins. As part of the process, a legal battle at the High Court against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is bought by the uncle of Hamid Al-Sweady and five other Iraqis who claim soldiers murdered and assaulted prisoners captured during the fighting.

• October 2009: Three High Court judges accuse the MoD of “lamentable” behaviour and “serious breaches” of duty over the failure to disclose crucial information about allegations of murder by British soldiers in Iraq in 2004.

• November 2009: Defence secretary Bob Ainsworth announces a public inquiry into the allegations that Iraqi nationals were detained and unlawfully killed, and that others had been mistreated at that camp and at a detention facility.

• March 4 2013: The Al-Sweady inquiry opens, chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Thayne Forbes, judge in the trial of Dr Harold Shipman. .

• March 20 2014: Lawyers for the alleged victims’ families drop claims their relatives were killed by soldiers in custody on the last day of live evidence.

• April 16 2014: The inquiry hears closing oral submissions from participants.

• December 17 2014: Sir Thayne reports on his findings, finishing the Al-Sweady inquiry.

SEE ALSO

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Al-Sweady inquiry told teen ‘hanged’ by British troops

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