Britain War Crimes: WikiLeaks war logs: British forces exposed over Afghan attacks
- WikiLeaks war logs: British forces exposed over Afghan attacks
Exclusive: Ministry of Defence releases documents linking three military units to bulk of civilian casualties
Rob Evans, Richard Norton-Taylor and David Leigh
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 26 October 2010 21.01 BST
The conduct of three British military units in Afghanistan has come under serious question after the Ministry of Defence released unprecedented details of incidents in which troops attacked Afghan civilians.
The disclosure, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act made by the Guardian, revealed that of the casualties caused by British forces, two-thirds involved troops from the three units, triggering calls for an inquiry into their behaviour.
Releasing information about 21 incidents, the MoD revealed that the Coldstream Guards shot four civilians in Kabul over a period of three weeks; the Royal Marine commandos killed or wounded civilians eight times in six months; and the third unit, the Rifles, were involved in three incidents last year.
Among the casualties were children, and on one occasion a man with mental health problems.
Details of the attacks were not released at the time, but they were among thousands of incidents mentioned in US army logs posted by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks in the summer. Today's release came after the Guardian pressed for more details of those cases.
One cluster of incidents involved the Coldstream Guards in Kabul in autumn 2007. On 21 October, they killed one individual and wounded two others in a silver minibus while on patrol in Kabul.
The MoD says the minibus failed to stop when the soldiers signalled for it to do so, and the guardsmen shot at it.
In another incident, on 6 November 2007, the son of an Afghan general was killed. He was driving a Toyota car and was said to have accelerated towards a Coldstream Guards patrol. The soldiers could only shout a warning before shooting at the car; it skidded to a halt and the man fell out, the MoD said.
The Coldstream Guards' unofficial blog described the mood within the detachment at the time: "The overriding threat is that of suicide bombers, of which there have been a number in the recent past."
The second cluster of civilian casualties involved the Royal Marines, who were stationed in Helmand province.
On 19 November 2008 they shot dead a child in a white Toyota which they believed was driving towards them. "There had been a report of a suicide bomber in the area," said the MoD.
On 4 December 2008, marines wounded a man who had been "trying to locate his family as they had moved compounds". The marines thought he had been tracking them, the MoD says.
That month, a 12-year-old boy was wounded when a van sped towards a Royal Marines patrol and "failed to stop after verbal warnings were given".
On 19 January 2009, two children were injured "in their abdomens by shrapnel" after missiles were fired from above by unmanned drones. The Royal Marines had called for the air strikes, fearing they were being threatened by Taliban insurgents.
A few days later, the marines shot a man and a child after they believed two men were "reporting their progress" in order to prepare a bomb attack.
A mentally ill man was shot in the last incident, on 26 March 2009. The marines had received a report of a bomb threat when a man on a motorcycle "approached the patrol driving slowly and observing them". He disappeared after warning shots were fired. But he soon returned. The marines thought he was an "imminent threat" and shot him, according to the MoD.
The Rifles were involved in three incidents last year, including calling in RAF aircraft whose bomb killed an undisclosed number of civilians in Nad-e-Ali, Helmand last September.
The Labour MP Paul Flynn called for an inquiry into the conduct of the units in what he said could be "atrocities in the name of the British people". "Truth has a cleansing function," he added.
Royal Marine commandos were the last UK troops to be stationed in Sangin, one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, before handing over to US forces earlier this year. The Rifles sustained particularly severe casualties when they were deployed in Sangin at the beginning of this year. The Coldstream Guards, one of the oldest regiments in the British army, have been deployed in Afghanistan at regular intervals.
An MoD spokesman said: "We deeply regret all civilian casualties. Protecting the Afghan civilian population is a cornerstone of ISAF's mission, and all British troops undergo comprehensive training on the strict rules of engagement. This contrasts directly with the attitude of the insurgents, whose indiscriminate use of suicide bombs, roadside explosive devices and human shields cause the majority of civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan. We will continue our efforts to prevent insurgents harming civilians and to develop the capacity of Afghan security forces to protect the population."
Meanwhile, MEPs have demanded that European leaders challenge the US president, Barack Obama, over WikiLeaks' disclosures of alleged torture in Iraq. They want the issue to be raised at the EU-US summit agenda next month.
Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberals group in the European parliament, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration had to investigate the "abuses" revealed by WikiLeaks.
"This will obviously be a sensitive topic for the US administration, but partners in the transatlantic alliance must be clear on common rules of engagement in times of conflict if we are to retain any moral standing in the world," Verhofstadt said.
"Whilst the allegations concern actions undertaken during the previous Bush administration, it will be incumbent on the present one to investigate the abuses, pursue those complicit and lay down stricter guidelines for conduct in combat."
"The US remains a hugely important ally in terms of security. We cannot afford to allow our standards to slip so far that respect for the rule of law is ignored."
Humiliate, strip, threaten: UK military interrogation manuals discovered
Exclusive: Methods devised in secret in recent years may breach international law
guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 October 2010 21.30 BST
The British military has been training interrogators in techniques that include threats, sensory deprivation and enforced nakedness in an apparent breach of the Geneva conventions, the Guardian has discovered.
Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they are questioning, and suggest ways in which this can be achieved.
One PowerPoint training aid created in September 2005 tells trainee military interrogators that prisoners should be stripped before they are questioned. "Get them naked," it says. "Keep them naked if they do not follow commands." Another manual prepared around the same time advises the use of blindfolds to put prisoners under pressure.
A manual prepared in April 2008 suggests that "Cpers" – captured personnel – be kept in conditions of physical discomfort and intimidated. Sensory deprivation is lawful, it adds, if there are "valid operational reasons". It also urges enforced nakedness.
More recent training material says blindfolds, earmuffs and plastic handcuffs are essential equipment for military interrogators, and says that while prisoners should be allowed to sleep or rest for eight hours in each 24, they need be permitted only four hours unbroken sleep. It also suggests that interrogators tell prisoners they will be held incommunicado unless they answer questions.
The 1949 Geneva conventions prohibit any "physical or moral coercion", in particular any coercion employed to obtain information.
The revelations come after the Guardian published US military documents leaked to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks revealing details of torture, summary executions and war crimes in Iraq.
All the British classified training material was produced after the death of Baha Mousa, the Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured to death by British troops in Basra in September 2003. Some of it was created after a UK army inquiry into the abuse of Iraqi civilians concluded, in January 2008, that while a number of cases had been a cause for "professional humility", ill-treatment had not been endemic.
The leak of the material comes at a time when British military detention and interrogation practices are coming under increasing scrutiny.
Last month the Guardian reported that British soldiers and airmen have been suspected of responsibility for the murder and manslaughter of Iraqi civilians in addition to Mousa. The victims include a man who was allegedly kicked to death on board an RAF helicopter, another who was shot by a soldier of the Black Watch after being involved in a traffic incident, and a 19-year-old who drowned after allegedly being pushed into a river by soldiers serving with the Royal Engineers.
Next month, at the high court in London, lawyers representing more than 100 Iraqis who were held and interrogated by British forces, between the March 2003 invasion and April 2007, will argue that there is compelling evidence that they were tortured in a systematic manner.
The abuse, documented by a team of lawyers led by a Birmingham solicitor, Phil Shiner, includes 59 allegations of detainees being hooded, 11 of electric shocks, 122 of sound deprivation through the use of earmuffs, 52 of sleep deprivation, 131 of sight deprivation using blackened goggles, 39 of enforced nakedness and 18 allegations that detainees were kept awake by pornographic DVDs played on laptops.
At a preliminary hearing, a high court judge said it appeared to be accepted by the MoD that there were "arguable cases of ill-treatment" and added: "It appears also to be accepted that there is an arguable case of something systemic."
The court is not thought to be aware of the recent training material seen by the Guardian, however.
This material was created for the instruction of "tactical questioners", who conduct initial interrogations of prisoners of war, as well for the instruction of servicemen and women from all three branches of the armed forces who conduct "interrogation in depth".
The courses were run by interrogators operating within a military unit known as F Branch, part of the Joint Services Intelligence Organisation (Jsio), at the Jsio's Bedfordshire headquarters.
One PowerPoint aid, entitled Any Questions?, explains that the techniques have been developed over decades by British military interrogators serving in Borneo, Malaya, South Arabia, "Palastine" (sic), Cyprus and Northern Ireland. It explains that interrogators have faced "adverse pulicity (sic), investigations and problems" in the past. During operations in Cyprus in the 1950s, it says, such problems were created by members of parliament, and in Aden by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In northern Oman, trainees are informed, the problems were created by "our own side!".
Interrogators are advised to find a discreet place to conduct interrogations, preferably somewhere that looks "nasty". Shipping containers are said to be ideal places that offer "privacy for TQ and Interrogation sessions". The chosen location should always be "out of hearing" and "away from media".One of the documents states: "Torture is an absolute No No." However, it then goes on to recommend methods of ill-treatment that can be employed by interrogators.
Prisoners should be "conditioned" before questioning, with conditioning defined as the combined effects of self-induced pressure and "system-induced pressure". Harsh questioning – or "harshing" – in which an interrogator puts his face close to the prisoner, screaming, swearing and making threats, is recommended as a means to provoke "anxiety/fear". Other useful responses include "insecurity", "disorientation" and "humiliation".
The training material recommends that after a prisoner's clothes are removed, the interrogator ensures he is searched behind his foreskin and that his buttocks are spread. This is part of the conditioning process, rather than as a security measure. One section of the training course is entitled "positional asphyxiation – signs and symptoms".
Baha Mousa is thought to have died from positional asphyxiation caused by a soldier kneeling on his back and then pulling backwards on the hood that was over his head. Mousa also suffered 93 separate injuries while undergoing "tactical questioning" by soldiers of the 1 Battalion Queen's Lancashire Regiment.
Addressing the legal status of detainees who may later face prosecution, the material states: "Let the judicial process deal with them after you have finished."
Asked about the training material, an MoD spokesperson said: "The Baha Mousa inquiry is examining in detail the MoD's current detention practices, including the training of tactical questioning and interrogation and the MoD has given evidence on this subject. This evidence is a matter of public record and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further outside that forum. We are committed to learning all possible lessons from the inquiry and are giving it our full support."
Much of next month's high court hearing is expected to focus on the operations of the JSIO's training unit once it was deployed to Iraq to conduct interrogations of Iraqis. It operated secretive interrogation facilities known as Joint Field Intelligence Teams (Jfits), located inside prisoner-of-war camps. The Jfits had their own guard forces, and refused to take orders from the officers responsible for the main camps.
The commanding officer of the first Jfit established by the British military at Umm Qasr, just north of the Kuwaiti border, was a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy, while most of his interrogators were reservists who had been mobilised shortly before the invasion.
According to evidence heard by the public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa, a number of British officers complained about the mistreatment of detainees at this Jfit facility. One officer told the inquiry he saw about 30 Iraqis who had been forced to kneel in stressful positions, under the sun, with their hands cuffed behind their backs and sandbags over their heads. Some of those officers who complained said they believed the treatment to be inhumane and illegal, while others said it would damage the British military's reputation.
One lieutenant colonel told the inquiry he took the view that photographs of the mistreatment "would be extremely detrimental to our image", and recommended that a screen be placed around the Jfit facility "so that practices which might alienate the local population were not publicly exposed".
Torture warnings pushed aside for Britain to join US in 'war on terror'
• Ex-Guantánamo Bay inmates win release of documents
• Censored memos and letters betray concerns
Ian Cobain and Richard Norton-Taylor
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 28 September 2010 20.33 BST
The "war on terror" had barely begun when senior ministers in the Labour government became aware that it was to be a harsh and brutal affair, involving fundamental breaches of international human rights law, it was revealed today.
Previously classified documents, disclosed in the high court, show that the government was warned repeatedly in January 2002 that British citizens were possibly being tortured after capture by US forces in Afghanistan, that the US was planning to hold some indefinitely without trial, and that British military lawyers were complaining about breaches of the Geneva conventions.
While the heavily redacted documents – released in civil proceedings brought by six former Guantánamo inmates – betray British concern about American conduct, they also appear to show that diplomats, civil servants and government lawyers were anxious to find ways to remain, in the words of Tony Blair, "standing shoulder to shoulder" with the US.
A six-page memo by Tom McKane, a senior official attached to the Cabinet Office, and sent to David Manning, Blair's senior foreign policy adviser, names three British citizens held in Afghanistan and notes that each was "possibly being tortured in part 3 jail Kabul". McKane adds that MI5 and MI6 had begun questioning detainees in Afghanistan, and says: "The US has begun transferring detainees they are holding in Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. We have raised no objection in principle to the transfer of UK nationals."
Four days later, a Foreign Office note to Downing Street says MI5 and MI6 officers have arrived in Guantánamo to question British detainees, and warns: "This will continue to be a difficult issue to handle, both in procedural and legal terms with the US and in handling parliament and the media here."
At the foot of the letter, Blair has written: "The key is to find out how they are being treated. Though I was initially sceptical about claims of torture, we must make it clear to the US that any such action would be totally unacceptable and v quickly establish that it isn't happening."
Evidence has since emerged that the government knew the US was mistreating and torturing UK nationals and residents in January 2002 and for years afterwards, but did not seriously protest about it. Other evidence, notably in the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident, shows that MI5 co-operated with the CIA while that agency was indulging in mistreatment and torture.
Also among the released documents is a letter to London from the British embassy in Washington, dated 24 October, which reflects a growing realisation that the US was considering detaining people captured in Afghanistan for very long periods, and an understanding that it would be difficult to defend this as lawful.
Heavily censored, the letter shows that within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, the US and UK governments saw that the longer they could claim they were still waging a form of war, the longer they might be able to detain individuals without trial. They were aware the argument would wear thin if hostilities should appear to be over.
The author of the letter – whose identity has been redacted – writes: "As long as the war against terrorism in the widest sense continued, the US/UK would have rights to continue to detain those they had been fighting against (even if the fighting in Afghanistan itself were over). [Redacted] conceded that the strength of such a case would depend on the plausibility of the argument that the war was continuing."
One document, a 19-page appendix to a Cabinet briefing paper dated 14 January 2002 headed "UK nationals held in Afghanistan", is redacted in its entirety.
Another details the concerns of a British army lawyer in Kuwait who visited Bagram, the airfield north of Kabul where many detainees were held. "From my visit to Bagram 10/11 Jan and watching the reception of the 80 plus prisoners, it would seem that this detainee issue is one that has the potential to reflect badly on the US/Coalition … the US treatment of the prisoners could be judged to be [redacted]". The Red Cross had been "allowed to look in" but denied access. "It is clear that the US is pushed logistically, but my understanding of the Geneva convention is that this is no excuse."
British servicemen suspected of murdering Iraqi civilians
Exclusive: Soldiers and airmen are suspected of killing significant number of civilians, but have not been put on trial
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 12 September 2010 16.17 BST
British soldiers and airmen are suspected of being responsible for the murder and manslaughter of a number of Iraqi civilians in addition to the high-profile case of Baha Mousa, defence officials have admitted.
The victims include a man who was allegedly kicked to death on board an RAF helicopter, another who was shot by a soldier of the Black Watch after being involved in a traffic incident, and a 19-year-old who drowned after allegedly being pushed into a river by soldiers serving with the Royal Engineers.
Military police recommended that some of the alleged killers be put on trial for murder and manslaughter, but military prosecutors declined to do so after concluding that there was no realistic prospect of convictions. The Ministry of Defence and the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) have repeatedly declined to offer detailed explanations for those decisions. The MoD has also been reluctant to offer anything other than sketchy details of some of the investigations.
In the case of the man said to have been kicked to death aboard an RAF helicopter by troops of the RAF Regiment, the MoD has admitted that the allegation was investigated by RAF police, who decided not to conduct any postmortem examination of the body. After the case was referred to the RAF's most senior prosecutor, a decision was taken not to bring charges, apparently because the cause of death remained unknown. MoD officials are refusing to say whether any of the alleged killers were ever interviewed as part of the investigation. They did admit, however, that the British military has made no attempt to contact the man's family since his death.
The disclosure that British servicemen are suspected of being involved in the unlawful killing of a significant number of Iraqi civilians comes after the high court gave permission for a judicial review of the MoD's failure to establish a public inquiry into the British military's entire detention policy in the wake of the 2003 invasion.
An army investigation into a number of cases – including that of Mousa, who was tortured to death by British troops – conceded in 2008 that they were a cause for "professional humility", but concluded that there was nothing endemic about the mistreatment.
In July, however, after reviewing evidence submitted by lawyers representing 102 survivors of British military detention facilities, the high court ruled: "There is an arguable case that the alleged ill-treatment was systemic, and not just at the whim of individual soldiers." The court also cast doubt on the ability of military police to conduct independent investigations.
The abuse documented by a team of lawyers led by Birmingham solicitor Phil Shiner includes 59 allegations of detainees being hooded, 11 of electric shocks, 122 of sound deprivation through the use of ear muffs, 52 of sleep deprivation, 131 of sight deprivation using blackened goggles, 39 of enforced nakedness and 18 allegations that detainees were kept awake by pornographic DVDs played on laptops.
The incidents which led to British servicemen being suspected of murder or manslaughter came shortly after the invasion, at a time of growing chaos and lawlessness in Iraq.
The RAF case concerns the death of a man called Tanik Mahmud, who was detained at a checkpoint at Ramadi in western Iraq on 11 April 2003 for reasons that the MoD has repeatedly declined to disclose. He and a number of other detainees were put aboard a Chinook helicopter, and guarded by three men from the 2nd Squadron of the RAF Regiment.
The MoD says that Mahmud "sustained a fatal injury" while on board the aircraft, but maintains that it does not know what sort of injury this was. On the Chinook's arrival at a US air base, Mahmud's body was examined by a US military doctor, who declared the cause of death to be unknown.
The MoD says that an RAF police investigation was opened two months later following a complaint that the three men from the RAF Regiment "had kicked, punched or otherwise assaulted" Mahmud. According to the MoD's account, the RAF investigators waited a further 10 months before asking a pathologist whether it was worth conducting a postmortem examination. According to the RAF investigators, this pathologist advised them that Mahmud's body would be too decomposed for an examination to be worthwhile. The MoD would not say whether the pathologist was an RAF officer.
That view is disputed by an experienced forensic pathologist, who has told the Guardian that an examination could still reveal evidence of an assault, particularly if any ribs or facial bones had been damaged. Derrick Pounder, professor of forensic medicine at the University of Dundee, who has experience of exhumations and postmortems in the Middle East, said: "That advice would be contrary to the advice that any UK forensic scientist would offer to any police in the UK who were investigating an allegation of assault leading to death." When the Guardian asked the MoD if it could see a copy of the pathologist's advice that it says the RAF police received, a spokesman said no copy could be found in its files.
Three weeks after Mahmud was killed, a man called Ather Karim Khalaf, a newlywed aged 24, was shot dead, allegedly after the door of his car swung open at a checkpoint and struck a soldier of the Black Watch. An eyewitness has told the Guardian that after being shot at close range Karim Khalaf was dragged from the car and beaten. He died later in hospital. The MoD confirmed that Karim Khalaf had been sitting at the wheel of his car when he was shot, and that witnesses have complained that he was then taken from the vehicle and beaten. A spokesman said the Royal Military Police (RMP) recommended that the soldier be prosecuted for murder, but military prosecutors declined to do so.
Four weeks after Karim Khalaf was shot dead, Said Shabram, 19, drowned after British soldiers allegedly pushed him and another man, Munaam Bali Akaili, from a four-metre-high jetty into the Shatt al-Arab waterway near Basra.
In a statement that Akaili made during a claim for compensation, he described the moments before his friend died. "The soldier with the gun then started pushing us towards the edge of the jetty," he said. "Said and I were very afraid and started begging the soldier to stop. The soldier continued to push us towards the edge. He seemed to get agitated that we would not jump in and, at one point, I thought he was getting so angry he would shoot us. The soldiers were laughing. The soldier with the gun suddenly pushed us into the water."
Akaili was dragged from the water by passersby. Shabram's body was recovered after his family hired a diver to search the water. An MoD spokesman said the three Royal Engineers were reported by the RMP for manslaughter, but military prosecutors declined to bring charges.
The MoD evaded a series of questions about prosecution decisions in these cases for more than three months, before deciding they should be addressed by the Service Prosecuting Authority, which was formed last year from the merger of the armed services' prosecuting bodies.
Brigadier Philip McEvoy, deputy director of the SPA, said the name Ather Karim Khalaf meant nothing to him; when asked how many cases there could be in which military police had recommended a soldier be prosecuted for murder, he replied: "God knows."
McEvoy also said he knew little about the Tanik Mahmud case because the file had been retained by the RAF's directorate of legal services. He then maintained that he had no idea where that directorate was based.
McEvoy issued a statement in which he said there had been too little evidence to justify a prosecution in the Mahmud or Shabram cases. He added that "the presumption of innocence can only be undermined" if the SPA were to release information allowing the public to determine why an individual had fallen under suspicion.
A small number of soldiers alleged to have killed Iraqi civilians have faced prosecution.
A court martial cleared four soldiers who were accused of the manslaughter of a 15-year-old, Ahmed Jabbar Kareem, who drowned after he was allegedly pushed into a canal in Basra two weeks before the death of Shabram. The court heard that British troops had a policy of "wetting" suspected looters by forcing them into canals and rivers.
In a separate case, seven soldiers were cleared of the murder of another Iraqi teenager, Nadhem Abdullah, after a judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence.
Six soldiers were cleared of the abuse of Baha Mousa. A seventh pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment and was jailed for a year.
In a number of other cases in which Iraqi civilians have died in British military custody, the RMP has not recommended criminal charges. These include the case of Abdul Jabbar Musa Ali, a headteacher aged 55, who was detained by soldiers of the Black Watch, along with his son, after a number of firearms were found at their home. Both men are alleged to have been beaten as they were being detained, and the MoD concedes that "there is some corroborative witness evidence to support allegations that they were assaulted" when arrested.
In a statement that Musa Ali's son has given to lawyers, he said his father was subsequently kept hooded and beaten repeatedly for several hours, and that his screaming abruptly stopped. When his family retrieved his body it was said to have been extensively bruised. The MoD said it was not possible to establish whether a crime had been committed because the family refused permission for an exhumation.
Another man died five days earlier after being detained by soldiers of the Black Watch, apparently at the same detention centre. His corpse was taken to a local hospital where his death was recorded as being the result of cardiac arrest. The MoD admits that this recording was made by a man with no medical qualifications. "The RMP subsequently investigated and established that no crime had been committed," the MoD said.