Claims of abuse by British soldiers carried out at a secret network of illegal prisons in the Iraqi desert have been revealed by the UK’s Mail on Sunday. But the government reportedly wants to put a lid on the details of the alleged atrocities.
In 2003, dozens of men were allegedly hooded, stripped and beaten in secret camps across Iraq. One innocent civilian has reportedly died aboard a Royal Air Force helicopter, and a group of 63 others are still considered missing after being taken to another secret prison located in an oil pump station.
The shocking revelation is worsened by the fact that these events – which, if proven true, are clear violations of international law – were apparently sanctioned by top lawyers in the British Ministry of Defense, and kept secret from the Army's lawyer on the ground in Iraq.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the chief British Army lawyer in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, told the Mail on Sunday that what went on in this secret prison network amounted to "war crimes."
Mercer said it was part of his job to monitor the treatment of prisoners taken by British Forces and the conditions at detention facilities. But he was kept "totally in the dark" about the secret network’s existence.
"This prisoner facility operated entirely outside the normal chain of command," said Mercer, who has since left the Army.
But even with people like Mercer speaking out, the truth may never be fully revealed, and those responsible may never be brought to justice, all because of something called the Justice and Security Bill.
The bill, which was introduced to the Parliament just last week, would give the government more power to withhold sensitive intelligence evidence in civil court cases. If passed into law, it would permanently bury the details of this potentially explosive scandal.
What is clear now is that, if the Justice and Security Bill does become law, the truth may never come out.
“These are alleged war crimes, but what Britain did may never be disclosed. Indeed, the bill may be specifically designed to prevent such allegations ever coming to light,” Lieutenant Colonel Mercer said.
And his is not the only skeptical voice of concern. Senior Conservative MP David Davis said the bill seemed to be “tailored to produce a cover-up.”
“I find it astonishing that the military authorities responsible for the legality of prisoner detention were not even notified about these secret camps. If these allegations are substantiated, they amount to a serious blow to the rule of law,” Davis told the Mail on Sunday.
“The bill, if passed, would be another, giving Ministers the power effectively to instruct judges to withhold evidence in court cases.”
This is most worrying to the victims of those crimes, some of whom are beginning legal action on Monday. The Mail in Sunday’s exclusive revealed the details of some of the victims, who were held and tortured at a location called Station 22, located in a phosphate mine near the town of al-Qaim, close to the Syrian border.
Three civilians, who had no connection to Saddam Hussein or his political party, have given their testimony to Paul Shiner from Public Interest Lawyers, who will be representing the men.
One of the victims, a middle-aged truck driver, was stopped at a checkpoint when he went out in search of food.
He said he was hooded, beaten, taken to Station 22 and interrogated about where the old regime had hidden its alleged weapons of mass destruction.
The man claimed that when he said he didn’t know, a soldier kicked him so hard that two of his ribs broke. He was freed after three weeks, but his wife, who had not been told of his detention and had assumed he was dead, had suffered a miscarriage.
Another witness says he was hooded, punched and kicked when stopped at the roadblock, detained at Station 22, and interrogated about WMDs. He was also stripped naked and dropped on the roadside three weeks later.
Shiner said he will demand a public inquiry and a thorough investigation of his clients’ claims from the Ministry of Defense.
But if the new Justice and Secrecy Bill is passed, then none of this potentially damning evidence will ever see the light of day, just as the victims will never see justice.