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Al-Sweady inquiry: Did British soldiers shoot dead their Iraqi prisoners?

The Al-Sweady inquiry has heard clear evidence of torture at Camp Abu Najah in Iraq, writes Simon Basketter

Issue No. 2396

Soldiers in Iraq

Soldiers in Iraq (Pic: The U.S. Army on Flickr)

Lawyers representing Iraqi relatives at the Al-Sweady inquiry said last week that there was insufficient material to establish if civilians were unlawfully killed in the custody of British troops at Camp Abu Naji.

Responding to the news, the Sun newspaper declared, “What a disgraceful waste of time and money. And a terrible slur on so many brave soldiers.”

The inquiry is examining allegations that British troops unlawfully killed more than 20 prisoners and mistreated nine others after a battle near the Danny Boy base. 

The inquiry is named after Hamid Al-Sweady, one of those who died. 

There is clear evidence of torture in the camp and on the battlefield. An International Committee of the Red Cross doctor found injuries on the prisoners “indicating excessive force in manhandling them”. 

What there isn’t is clear evidence that Iraqi prisoners were killed in the camp. The inquiry isn’t investigating whether Iraqis were killed lawfully on the battlefield.

In 2008 Mark Keegan, a British soldier, described what happened to one young prisoner Hamza Al-Maliki.

Keegan said, “All the blokes were running past and punching him in the head and there was a massive ditch and he was on his knees in there. 

“Every time he kept crying out he was knocked to the floor with his hands tied behind his back. 

 “I see him have massive rocks thrown at his head, and yeah his face must have been pissing out with blood underneath that sandbag.”

Keegan told the inquiry he now can’t remember what happened. However, his witness statement to the inquiry in January repeated the allegations. That he now can’t remember is not down to intimidation, he assured the inquiry.

In other evidence, Sergeant Paul Kelly said he may have shot and killed Iraqis who were seriously wounded.

“What I’m saying is when I lifted my weapons up to fire, I possibly swept across those bodies that were on the floor and if they are people who were alive I could have killed them. I don’t know,” Kelly said.

Ex-army Private Duncan Aston told the inquiry that Kelly, “put a full magazine of bullets into both bodies that had been twitching but he also fired into the bodies of the other dead gunmen in the ditch. The bodies of the two twitching gunmen stopped twitching.”

Aston also said that Privates Steven Wells and Scott Barlow punched and kicked an Iraqi on “different parts of his body, including his face, shins and ribs”.

The inquiry came about because the army and the then Labour government attempted to cover up what happened.

The Royal Military Police was supposed to have investigated. But it appointed unqualified detectives, lost evidence and failed to interview witnesses.

The court ruling that forced the inquiry said Colonel Dudley Giles, who was deputy head of the military police, “was overall a most unsatisfactory witness”. 

The judges found that civil servants working for the treasury solicitor had repeatedly lied to the court. 

They found that the then defence secretary Bob Ainsworth “consistently and repeatedly failed to comply” with the obligation to disclose documents to the Iraqis’ lawyers. 

The Al-Sweady inquiry is due to conclude on 16 April and will report in the autumn.

There are over 2,000 legal claims against British soldiers for abuse during the Iraq war. 

As the Sun put it, a terrible slur on “our boys”.

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Article information

Tue 25 Mar 2014, 17:43 GMT
Issue No. 2396
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