Hilary Meredith has hit out at plans for the International Criminal Court to pursue UK military personnel for war crimes in Iraq.
The chief prosecutor at the international criminal court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, has declared there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that UK soldiers committed war crimes against detainees during the Iraq conflict.
The announcement on Monday means the ICC will press ahead with its investigation into claims that British troops abused and unlawfully killed prisoners after the US-led invasion.
It came in a 74-page report delivered in New York to the annual assembly of states parties that participate in the jurisdiction of the court.
In her conclusion on the long-running inquiry into the role of British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2008, Bensouda said: “The [prosecutor’s] office has reached the conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court against persons in their custody.”
Bensouda does, however, dismiss allegations that British troops committed any war crimes on the battlefield.
The report says: “In the absence of information indicating intent to kill or target civilians or civilian objects, or cause clearly excessive civilian injuries, there is no reasonable basis to believe that war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court were committed by British armed forces in the course of their military operations not related to the context of arrests and detentions.”
Bensouda’s report examines the controversy over the claims and refers to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT). It says that “amid concerns of political interference, the defence secretary [Michael Fallon] announced the closing of IHAT ahead of the originally scheduled time frame by 30 June 2017, citing IHAT’s own forecasts that the unit’s caseload was expected to reduce to around 20 investigations by the summer 2017.”
Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:
“Let’s be absolutely clear, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was shut down because it was a witch-hunt against our troops which did not result in a single prosecution.
“Closure came at a price – not only the £60 million cost to the taxpayer but the shattered lives, careers, marriages and health of those falsely accused over many years.
“Far from avoiding scrutiny, our own Ministry of Defence engineered a situation where public funds were used to cover the costs of those who were bringing spurious and unassessed cases.”
Hilary Meredith gave evidence at the official Parliamentary inquiry into controversial accusations of unlawful killing against Iraq war veterans. She also gave evidence to the Committee which recommended the MoD should be stripped of historic immunity from prosecution when personnel are killed during training when there is a serious failing in its duty of care.
“These allegations relate to war crimes committed by military personnel when capturing and detaining prisoners – not on the battlefield.
“We already know that in Iraq, the military on the ground were faced with large numbers of captives with little guidance on how to deal with the situation. Whilst our service personnel knew when to shoot under rules of engagement they received no guidance on what to do when arresting, detaining or interrogating prisoners.
“The Ministry of Defence must take responsibility for this lack of training. It was recognised in the Chilcott Report that certain banned activities when detaining prisoners had been written out of all MoD training manuals by the time we went to Iraq.
“With the International Criminal Court now targeting our troops, we are calling for an urgent investigation into why ten banned activities were written out of all MoD training manuals pre-Iraq.
“If there have been any failings, the buck stops with the MoD. Individual troops must not be made scapegoats and hung out to dry.”
“We have long called for corporate responsibility. Systematic failures in training should be captured by the Corporate Homicide Act with heavy sanctions placed on the MoD – and not individual troops – for any failings.”