UK: Inquiry into murder of 20 Iraqis by UK troops
A long-awaited public inquiry into allegations that 20 or more Iraqi civilians were murdered by British troops in Iraq nine years ago opened in London on Monday.
The Al-Sweady Inquiry, named after one of the dead men, 19-year-old Hamid Al-Sweady, will examine claims that British soldiers unlawfully killed detainees following a gun battle at a checkpoint in Maysan Province, southern Iraq, in May 2004.
It will also look into allegations that detainees captured at the same time were mistreated at a British base, Camp Abu Naji, and at a detention facility at Shaibah Logistics Base between May and September that year.
Britain's Ministry of Defense vigorously denies the allegations, arguing the inquiry is "premature and disproportionate" as there is no evidence to support the case. It claims that all the dead were killed in battle after ambushing British troops.
The inquiry, first ordered by the British government in 2009, is being chaired by a former High Court judge, Thayne Forbes, and began with an opening statement from counsel to the inquiry Jonathan Acton Davis.
The hearings had to await a lengthy police investigation, which ended with no one being charged.
The inquiry team has already taken statements from Iraqi witnesses in Beirut and Istanbul, as well as from military witnesses, and has trawled through mountains of evidence.
Some 15 Iraqis will travel to Britain to give evidence to the inquiry later this month, including Hamid Al-Sweady's uncle Khuder Al-Sweady and several other detainees.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition led to numerous instances of human rights violations by occupying troops, including the use of torture, sexual and psychological abuse in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
Some 120,000 British troops served in Iraq during the occupation before their withdrawal in 2009.
In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United Kingdom had breached the European Convention on Human Rights by failing to investigate the killing of five Iraqis by British troops in 2003.
An inquiry into the 2003 death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa while in British custody condemned “inadequate detention procedures, leadership failures, poor training, a loss of discipline, and a lack of ‘moral courage’ among soldiers to report abuse,” NGO Human Rights Watch reported. The case led to the first conviction of a British soldier under international war crimes legislation.
Britain is also holding a separate wide-ranging public inquiry into the Iraq war, which is due to report later this year.
The British Defense Ministry says it has already settled 227 claims with compensation payouts totalling $23.7 million over human rights violations by British troops in Iraq between 2003 and 2009.
(AFP, Al-Akhbar, AP)
Britain begins inquiry into Iraq abuse claims
By JILL LAWLESS | Associated Press – Mon, Mar 4, 2013
UK government passes legislation for secret courts
By Jean Shaoul
9 March 2013
On Monday, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government pushed its Justice and Security Bill through the House of Commons. By enabling the government to cover up its crimes, the bill raises the spectre of an untrammelled dictatorship.
Under the legislation, ministers will be able to introduce “closed material procedures.” That is, they will be able to establish secret trials for civil law cases in which the public and media are excluded from proceedings where the government is a defendant and national security is said to be at stake.
The planned legislation will also prevent the accusers of the British state and their lawyers from accessing and challenging evidence submitted in the government’s defence, by removing the courts’ power to insist on the disclosure of information held by the authorities in cases deemed to be “sensitive.” It would mean that the government could suppress information about the handover of Afghan detainees by Britain to Afghan jails where they risk being tortured, or about UK involvement in US drone strikes.
The bill allows the government to appoint special advocates to represent the claimants, instead of lawyers of their own choosing, making it impossible for the claimants to know why their cases failed or succeeded.
It is a profoundly undemocratic bill that marks a major departure in long-held principles of English law—that cases are held and decided in public and that the evidence presented by the other party is disclosed. Following on from the secret hearings permitted in immigration cases, it paves the way for secret trials to be extended beyond national security-related cases, as the wording of government amendments to the bill indicates, and thus become a standard part of the English legal system.
Government pays Libyan dissident's family £2.2m over MI6-aided rendition
Sami al-Saadi, wife and four children were secretly flown from Hong Kong to Tripoli where he was tortured by Gaddafi police
The Guardian, Thursday 13 December 2012 13.16 GMT
Ministers have agree to pay more than £2m to the family of a prominent Libyan dissident abducted with the help of MI6 and secretly flown to Tripoli where he was tortured by the security police of the former dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Having sought for years to avoid the agents of the Libyan dictator, Sami al-Saadi was forced on board a plane in Hong Kong with his wife and four young children in a joint UK-US-Libyan operation. They were then flown to Libya, where all of them were initially imprisoned. Saadi was held and tortured for years.
The Saadi family had accepted a settlement of £2.23m, the high court heard on Thursday. The government paid the sum by way of compensation and without admitting any liability.
Evidence of the UK's role in the operation – believed to be the only case where an entire family was subjected to "extraordinary rendition" – came to light after Gaddafi's fall in 2011.
CIA correspondence with Libyan intelligence, found in the spy chief Moussa Koussa's office in Tripoli by Human Rights Watch, states: "We are … aware that your service had been co-operating with the British to effect [Saadi's] removal to Tripoli … the Hong Kong government may be able to co-ordinate with you to render [Saadi] and his family into your custody."
The operation was arranged in 2004 at the time of Tony Blair's "deal in the desert" with Gaddafi, after which UK intelligence services helped track down and hand over his opponents.
Another Libyan victim was Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who was rendered alongside his pregnant wife. A letter from the MI6 head of counter-terrorism Sir Mark Allen to Koussa, also found in Tripoli, said: "I congratulate you on the safe arrival of [Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya. I know I did not pay for the air cargo [but] the intelligence [on him] was British."
Belhaj is pursuing his legal action against the British government.
Saadi said on Thursday: "My family suffered enough when they were kidnapped and flown to Gaddafi's Libya. They will now have the chance to complete their education in the new, free Libya. I will be able to afford the medical care I need because of the injuries I suffered in prison."
He said: "I started this process believing that a British trial would get to the truth in my case. But today, with the government trying to push through secret courts, I feel that to proceed is not best for my family. I went through a secret trial once before, in Gaddafi's Libya. In many ways, it was as bad as the torture. It is not an experience I care to repeat.
"Even now, the British government has never given an answer to the simple question: 'Were you involved in the kidnap of me, my wife and my children?' I think the payment speaks for itself."
He said his family would donate some of the proceeds to support other Libyan torture victims.
"We look forward to the result of the police investigation and hope there will be a full and fair public inquiry into our case," he said.
His eldest daughter, Khadija, who was rendered to Libya aged 12, said: "I wrote to [the then justice secretary] Ken Clarke when I heard about the secret courts plan, but he would not say that he would not seek to try my case in secret. I still feel this would have been unnecessary, unfair and unworthy of the UK. I hope the inquiry will be as open and as fair as the phone-hacking inquiry."
Kat Craig, legal director of the charity Reprieve, which acts for the two families, said: "We now know that Tony Blair's 'deal in the desert' was bought with ugly compromises. Perhaps the ugliest was for MI6 to deliver a whole family to one of the world's most brutal dictators."
Sapna Malik, of Leigh Day, the law firm representing the families, said: "The sheer terror experienced by the Saadi family when they were bundled on to their rendition flight and delivered up to their nemesis clearly lives with them all to this day. Having concluded one part of their quest for justice, they now look to the British criminal courts to hold those responsible for their ordeal to account and await the judge-led inquiry they have been promised."
Belhaj, who last year led the battle for Tripoli, said: "When my friend Sami al-Saadi was freed from Abu Salim prison on 23 August 2011, he weighed seven stone. He was close to death. It is a miracle he survived his ordeal and is home with his family."
New Iraq abuse allegations against UK troops
UK court to hear new allegations that troops engaged in torturing and killing prisoners during the Iraq war.
Last Modified: 29 Jan 2013 00:47
British troops will face fresh charges of breaching international law over the alleged torture and killing of prisoners during the war in Iraq.
New allegations will be revealed during a hearing at the High Court in London on Tuesday.
Lawyers for over 100 Iraqis who claim they are victims of abuse will place a file of statements before two judges, accusing British soldiers and intelligence officers of unlawful practices.
Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee reports from London.
Britain to pay compensation to family of Afghan boy bayoneted by soldier
Grenadier Guardsman Daniel Crook jailed for 18 months for unprovoked attacked on Ghulam Nabi, then 10, in Afghanistan
Rob Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor
The Guardian, Friday 17 August 2012 17.19 BST
The government is to pay compensation to the family of a 10-year-old Afghan boy who was bayoneted by a British soldier.
Grenadier Guardsman Daniel Crook could not explain why he stabbed the boy in the kidneys in an unprovoked attack when he was hungover after a heavy session drinking vodka.
Crook was jailed for 18 months and dismissed from the army.
The Ministry of Defence admitted the attack was "appalling" and has agreed to pay compensation. The amount has yet to be agreed.
The boy's father has told the Guardian that his family has suffered financially as a result of the attack, while his son has missed months of school.
Crook was convicted last year after he pleaded guilty to attacking in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
The court martial heard that one evening in March 2010, he drunk a "considerable quantity" of vodka and became so "drunk and incapable" that he had to be treated by doctors overnight. Prosecutors told the court that the alcohol had been "sent to him in a mineral water bottle contained in a welfare parcel".
At 9am the next day, his unit left him behind to go out on patrol. Crook followed his unit after arming himself with a pair of grenades and a bayonet. His rifle had been taken off him "as a safety measure".
Not far from the checkpoint, Crook, still on his own, encountered Ghulam Nabi, then 10, who was on an errand for his father to collect yoghurt.
His father, Shah Zada, said Crook ordered his son to stop. "But he was just a little child and he didn't understand, otherwise he would have stopped his bicycle immediately," said the 72-year-old farmer.
Crook "took hold of the boy's shoulder and stabbed him in the region of his kidneys with his bayonet", prosecutors from the Service Prosecuting Authority told the court martial. "Crook felt the bayonet pierce the boy's skin, but did not see if he was bleeding," they added.
Shortly afterwards, Crook found his unit and admitted he had stabbed a child. He later told military investigators on two occasions that he could not offer any explanation for what he did.
The boy was taken to a hospital in Kandahar. His father said the British gave him a very small amount of money to pay for the medical treatment, adding that his son could not walk, or cycle to school for many months after the attack and found it difficult to lift weight.
Zada said the attack had burdened the family financially as his son was unable to run errands or help to collect grass for their animals. Ghulam has a big scar on his back.
He added that foreign troops were "in Afghanistan to build the country and remove insurgents, not to stab a child".
The family's case was taken up by Birmingham-based law firm, Public Interest Lawyers, after the story was revealed in the Guardian.
Daniel Carey, from the firm, said: "Our client is seeking compensation from the Ministry of Defence for the unprovoked attack on him. It is regrettable that medical assistance and adequate compensation were not provided earlier. In view of the ongoing proceedings we have no further comment at this stage."
A MoD spokesman said: "The MoD has accepted liability for this appalling incident and appropriate compensation will be paid on receipt of medical reports.
"Incidents of this kind are extremely rare but any allegations of ill treatment are investigated thoroughly. Protecting the Afghan civilian population is one of the UK's top priorities. All British troops undergo comprehensive training on the strict rules of engagement under which UK forces operate."
Civilian casualties are an embarrassing issue for the government which states that its aim is to protect and rebuild a broken country.
Crook is one of eight British soldiers who have been prosecuted over accusations of killing or injuring Afghan civilians since January 2005.
The Royal Military Police has launched at least 129 investigations into allegations that British forces have killed at least 44 civilians and wounded at least 49 others in Aghanistan in the past seven years.
UK 'approved' rendition of Libyan couple
Documents said to be found in office of Libya's ex-spy chief suggest UK had role in rendition of dissident man and wife.
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2012 08:15
The British government approved the rendition of Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a prominent fighter during the recent Libyan uprising, to the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi in 2004, according to reports in the British media.
Documents said to be found in the abandoned offices of Libya’s former intelligence chief, Moussa Koussa, in Tripoli, suggest British intelligence officers played an active role in his rendition along with his wife Fatima Bouchar.
The report on Sunday in the UK's The Guardian newspaper said Belhaj and his wife were living in exile in China in 2004 because of their involvement in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group that fought against Gaddafi.
The couple was detained in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and were told they could travel to London despite not having EU passports and a UK visa, the paper reported.
However, when the flight stopped in the Thai capital, Bangkok, the couple were detained in a secret CIA prison and eventually transferred to the Libyan capital Tripoli, according to the report.
In January, the UK police said they will investigate claims that the country’s secret services helped in the rendition of people from Libya.
Belhadj, who has said he was tortured after being arrested, gave an interview to Al Jazeera about his experience last year.
"What was done to me was violation of the law, and I am in possession of evidence that proves the implications of the British intelligence service," Belhadj said.
"In addition, we hope the law will take its course, as my legal team has evidence to restore my rights. All this makes us firmly believe that justice will be served shortly."
British soldier fired for stabbing Afghan boy
Grenadier Guardsman Daniel Crook jailed and dismissed from the army after bayoneting boy, 10, in kidneys for no reason
Nooruddin Bakhshi, Rob Evans, Richard Norton-Taylor and Jon Boone
The Guardian, Friday 2 December 2011 19.06 GMT