The bloody wounds UK has inflicted around the world through its all too often vile foreign policy are still raw. This can not only be said of colonial-era foreign policy, but also of Britain’s contemporary foreign policy.
British troops have remained committed to the principles of colonial occupation. It was after the turn of the millennium, not so long ago, when they last committed war crimes, and they have been continuing to commit war crimes with impunity during military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Various British media outlets reported on this in 2004, accusing British soldiers of murder, torture, sexual abuse and other crimes.
British troops have a long history of getting involved in military conflicts being waged by the United States. Their operations are sometimes limited to airstrikes and the military operations conducted by small groups of special forces, while others involve imposing occupying contingents on the territory of certain countries. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the largest conflicts where the United States and UK heavily deployed their ground forces.
The UK invaded Iraq as an ally of the United States to take part in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began in March 2003. The evidence and photographs of war crimes committed by soldiers from the United Kingdom published in 2004 by the British media shocked the Arab world and the British public. British Army General Sir Mike Jackson, who headed the British Army as Chief of the General Staff (CGS) at the time, and Adam Ingram who was serving as the Armed Forces Minister at the Ministry of Defense even came out with an official announcement that they were launching an investigation, but its results were never made public. Observers watching the United Kingdom at the time noted: “The liberating army transformed into an occupying army within a few hours.”
In 2006, the International Criminal Court (ICC) concluded there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes had been committed by British troops, however under pressure from London, the Court decided not prosecute as there were allegedly “fewer than 20 allegations”.
In 2008, a British court martial sentenced only one soldier to a year in prison, while the public inquiry acquitted six British soldiers of the murder of Iraqi citizen Baha Mousa, who died in one of the British Army’s temporary detention centers in the city of Basra after suffering a lengthy beating.
In 2010, a body to investigate complaints called the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was set up by the British Ministry of Defense, and in 2014, Operation Northmoor began working to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan. However, the inquiries were wound up after three years of work, and the IHAT team came under fire from the public, although the body had investigated 3,500 (!) allegations of crimes committed by British military personnel in Iraq.
Against a backdrop of blatant inaction in the British judicial system, with war crimes continuing to be committed by British servicemen, a Berlin-based human rights organization, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), joined forces with a British law firm specializing in human rights court cases, Public Interest Lawyers, and they submitted a dossier to the ICC in January 2014, documenting alleged war crimes committed by British military personnel, systematic human rights violations and torture during their 2003-2009 campaign in Iraq. According to reports in the British media, the dossier cited more than 1 thousand alleged cases of torture and 200 cases of murder committed in violation of the laws of warfare. These include beatings, death threats, electric shocks, burns, rapes, sleep deprivation, and deprivation of food and water.
As noted in the British media, the same methods were used by the British Army to “interrogate” prisoners during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and were officially banned by the British government in 1972.
The dossier sent to the ICC mentions the names of the British Army’s former Chief of the General Staff General Sir Peter Anthony Wall, former Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and former Armed Forces Minister at the Ministry of Defense Adam Ingram. According to human rights activists, they “knew or should have known” about the war crimes being committed by British troops, but they did not take proper measures to stop the crimes.
It is worth recalling that back in 2018, The Guardian wrote that after the IHAT was closed, many people in the UK feared that the truth about the United Kingdom’s war crimes would never be uncovered, and doubted London would ever investigate the crimes committed by its own British Army and soldiers.
This year however, there has already been another investigation into war crimes committed by British servicemen, first reported in February by the Middle East Eye, and then in November by the BBC and The Sunday Times. The suspicions were confirmed, although these crimes are kept carefully concealed in London. There were 11 detectives hired by journalists, who found evidence of war crimes, who said that the armed forces falsified their documents to cover up the murders that were committed by soldiers from the Special Air Service (SAS) special forces unit. There has also been news about sexual abuse committed by the Black Watch infantry battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Apart from this, one of the crimes referred to in the documents was the special forces shooting Afghan civilians in their own homes. No one was sentenced for murdering these people….
According to the BBC and the Sunday Times, lawyer Phil Shiner had taken over a thousand case documents to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), with evidence of the war crimes committed by the British troops. After that, the UK government decided to close IHAT, but some former IHAT members held onto investigation material from number of cases and leaked them to the media.
This time around however, the attempts made by individual British journalists who still believe in democracy and justice were thwarted, who wanted to bring the investigation into British war crimes to its logical end. The instruction from the current political elite in the United Kingdom was clearly to have this issue withdrawn from public debate, and they are trying hard to have people forget about it and consign it to oblivion. Not only is the United States trying to consolidate this position with the British elite, a number of Western countries are also helping to solidify it, who now prefer to pretend that international laws have ceased to exist, or that the wording of the existing international laws is subject to a “broad interpretation”. After all, the United States troops have also got blood on their hands from committing similar war crimes in Syria (especially in Raqqa), Afghanistan, and many other countries that now using American weapons to try and force out and replace the undesirable governments and leaders put there by Washington. They are also trying to push out their allies in military ventures, and not just in Yemen.
These are the Western political elites who impose their position on international institutions, which then withdraw from their functions as independent prosecutors under various pretexts, which is exactly what happened when the ICC refused to take action in 2006 to continue the investigation into British war crimes in Iraq.
However, does this behavior absolve the UK, the US, their “partners” and the leaders of these countries of responsibility for the war crimes they commit? Will the UK & Co answer for their war crimes? Will the ICC finally reach an objective verdict, or will this international body continue to just carry out political orders from the Western elite?
Valeriy Kulikov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”