Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 12 December 2019

British government and military accused of Iraq and Afghanistan war crimes cover-up: Report

The government is accused of opportunistically burying evidence of torture, abuse, beatings, sexual humiliation and even murder

British prime minister Tony Blair addressing troops at Shaiba Logistics Base in Basra, Iraq. Adrian Dennis / AFP
British prime minister Tony Blair addressing troops at Shaiba Logistics Base in Basra, Iraq. Adrian Dennis / AFP

The UK government and the British armed forces have been accused of attempting to cover war crimes committed against civilians during conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an investigation by The Sunday Times and BBC Panorama detectives said they found evidence of war crimes. Insiders have said soldiers involved in the crimes should have been prosecuted.

The new evidence relates to information gathered by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which investigated alleged crimes committed by UK soldiers in Iraq, and Operation Northmoor, an investigation into alleged crimes during the British combat mission in Afghanistan.

In particular, IHAT found that at Camp Stephen, an unofficial detention site in Basra dubbed “Britain’s Abu Ghraib”, troops were involved in torture, abuse, beatings, sexual humiliation and even murder.

IHAT and Operation Northmoor were shut down in 2017 before prosecutions were launched. The government of Theresa May claimed at the time the investigation into the crimes in Iraq had been irreparably tainted by their connection to Phil Shiner.

The solicitor, who took more than 1,000 cases to IHAT, was struck off for dishonesty after it emerged he had payed fixers in Iraq to locate possible clients.

Members of parliament referred to IHAT in 2017 as an “unmitigated failure” but 11 detectives involved in the investigations have said they found credible evidence of war crimes. They believe the controversy surrounding Mr Shiner allowed real evidence of criminality to be buried.

One investigator told The Sunday Times they believed the whitewash was disgusting. “I feel for the families because, knowing what evidence we gleaned from those investigations and the fact that nobody’s taken it forward, they’re not getting justice,” they said. “How can you hold your head up as a British person?”

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has rebuffed allegations of a pattern of cover-ups as unsubstantiated.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said “all of the allegations, that had evidence, have been looked at,” telling the BBC the “right balance” had been found over investigations during the Iraq war.

"What we're quite rightly doing is making sure spurious claims or claims without evidence don't lead to the shadow of suspicion, the cloud of suspicion hanging over people who have served their country for years on end, and we've got the right balance," he said.

Updated: November 17, 2019 09:47 PM

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