The remaining investigations into allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq have now finished without any prosecutions being brought. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said the Service Police Legacy Investigations (SPLI) have now “officially closed its doors”.
The SPLI’s was made up of Royal Navy Police and Royal Air Force Police and its job was to investigate Iraqi civilians’ claims of serious criminal behavior and acts by UK armed forces. It has assessed 1,291 allegations.
Although 178 allegations have been formally pursued in 55 separate investigations, no soldiers have been prosecuted, stated Wallace in a written statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday 19.
SPLI replaced the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) after a lawyer, Phil Shiner, who had submitted a slew of cases, was struck off for misconduct and dishonesty. Additionally, BBC’s defense correspondent Jonathan Beale analyses that initial investigations under IHAT were criticized by MPs because “it empowered law firms to bring cases on an industrial scale.”
Before SPLI took charge of investigations in 2017, some soldiers had been jailed. In February 2005, three soldiers were jailed between 20 weeks and two years by a court-martial for abusing Iraqi civilians at a camp near Basra in southern Iraq in 2003. In 2007, a soldier was jailed for a year in connection with the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, who was beaten while held in custody by British troops in 2003, describes AFP.
Moving forward, in 2017, the UK’s High Court ruled that British forces violated the Geneva Conventions during their military presence in Iraq, by regularly abusing civilians and detainees, details the Middle East Monitor.
In 2019, BBC panorama revealed that the British government and military attempted to cover up war crimes in Iraq and that they had no intention of prosecuting any soldier. Following that revelation, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the possibility of investigating that cover-up.
That same year, 5 people were referred to the military prosecutor, the Service Prosecuting Authority, but no charges were brought, according to the SPLI.
In 2020, ICC decided not to pursue a formal investigation into alleged war crimes such as wilful killing, torture, inhuman/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence. But prosecutor Fatou Bensouda still said there was clear evidence that UK forces were responsible for numerous crimes.
Allegations credible but no convictions
Defence Secretary Wallace has told that some allegations against British troops were credible, others were not. The credibility of allegations had been a “significant challenge throughout the investigations.” “However not all allegations and claims were spurious, otherwise investigations would not have proceeded beyond initial examination and no claims for compensation would have been paid,” he voiced.
He has admitted that some investigations have shown “shocking” and “shameful incidents” in Iraq. “We recognize that there were four convictions of UK military personnel for offenses in Iraq including offenses of assault and inhuman treatment”, he added.
In total, the Ministry of Defence has paid out more than £20 million ($28 million, 24 million euros) in compensation settlements for abuse claims from Iraqi nationals.
He stressed that the British government’s position “is clear: we deplore and condemn all such incidents,” but was firm on his stance that, “the vast majority of the more than 140,000 members of our armed forces who served in Iraq did so honourably”, said. “Many sadly suffered injuries or death, with devastating consequences for them and their families.”