12.01.2021 Author: Vladimir Platov

Will Great Britain Face Penalties for its War Crimes?


Against the backdrop of Australia, a member of the British Commonwealth, officially recognizing the war crimes committed by the Australian military inside Afghanistan, the position taken by the UK authorities in London, which continue to hide genuine information on this issue, and are trying to evade responsibility for them. At the same time, the British and US soldiers allied with the Australians are known for atrocities on a much larger scale, but they do not take any responsibility for them.

It is common knowledge that British troops have a long history of getting involved in military conflicts waged by the United States. Their operations are sometimes limited to airstrikes and military operations conducted by small groups of special forces, while others involve bringing troops into the territory of certain countries to occupy them. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the largest conflicts where the United States and UK have heavily deployed their ground forces.

Therefore, it is not surprising that not only Arab media outlets, but many British ones have repeatedly written about the evidence collected that high-ranking British officials with the Ministry of Defense have covered up the war crimes committed by UK military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. In particular, the war crimes in which they are involved have been reported on quite a few times, including by personnel from elite British special forces, such as the SAS and Black Watch. On top of that, during journalistic investigations, facts involving the falsification of documents were established; in these, premeditated killings and incidents of torture in Afghanistan and Iraq were presented as special operations against terrorists: “The commission of war crimes is an evident fact, but at one time the case was not initiated due to open pressure from then Defense Minister Michael Fallon. On his personal instructions, all cases involving this topic were closed even before they could reach the courts”.

Although the materials on the investigation done by the BBC and The Times did not say who exactly instructed to collect the package of documents on the involvement of British soldiers in committing war crimes during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is still abundantly clear from the materials published by the media that the evidence was stymied for political reasons.

For example, The Sunday Times provides evidence of the involvement of one soldier with the British Special Air Service in the murders, as well as evidence of crimes committed by members of the Black Watch battalion, which is part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, that involved beatings, torture, sexual abuse, and other crimes. In the publication’s opinion, even these exposed incidents may lead to the International Criminal Court becoming involved in the investigation of the war crimes in which the British military is presumed to have been complicit.

To investigate the complaints lodged by Iraqis on the actions taken by the British military, an IHAT (Iraq Historic Allegations Team) investigative group was especially created to examine hundreds of statements made by victims’ relatives. IHAT investigated many testimonies from British soldiers and service personnel at British military bases in Iraq about the torture of these people, whose were notably discovered with plastic bags on their heads.

However, in January 2016, after a statement made by then British Prime Minister David Cameron about the need to put an end to “false claims” against military personnel involved in operations in Iraq, the UK Ministry of Defense announced the termination of any further investigation into 57 criminal cases filed against the British military. London officially and deliberately followed the path of hushing up criminal incidents, which is especially substantiated by the removal of lawyer Phil Shiner from his legal practice, who had submitted to IHAT data detailing more than 1,000 cases involving violence inflicted by military service personnel. Nonetheless, Nicholas Mercer, the retired chief legal officer for the British Army in Iraq, in an interview with the BBC called this decision erroneous, noting at the same time that: “The government has already paid out 20 million pounds in 326 claims. Anyone who has come across the Ministry of Defense knows that it does not pay money for nothing”.

It was precisely to create the greatest hindrance for investigations concerning offenses committed by the British military, that Boris Johnson, the then head of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, authored the corresponding bill on Overseas Operations. Among other things, the document provides for a five-year delay for beginning the investigation, starting from the time that the incident occurs.

Not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan, the British Ministry of Defense did not find “sufficient evidence” of war crimes committed by British soldiers, although 120 people were involved in the investigation for about six years. The UK military police, assisted by civilian detectives and even the National Crime Agency, investigated a total of 675 allegations involving at least 52 suspicious deaths that occurred between 2005 and 2013. However, the UK Department of Defense announced that the investigation into these war crimes dubbed Operation Northmoor, which was launched in 2014, has been discontinued, and no legal proceedings are impending for any military service personnel. In other words, the department officially admitted that the investigation, which cost taxpayers 10 million GBP, “did not bring any results”. Earlier, it had come to light that no charges would be brought against any of the servicemen suspected of committing crimes in Iraq.

The UK government has a lengthy track record of harboring war criminals for decades. Since 1948, the Malaysians have been unable to achieve justice in the case when Scottish guards massacred residents in a village near the town of Batang Kali, where 24 people were killed for no reason. These killers were even photographed with the bodies of their victims. However, for 70 years the British authorities have not brought anyone to justice, and never even bothered to pay out compensation to the relatives of those who were killed.

Besides that, we must not forget that US and British service personnel have committed crimes in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, but nobody has answered for that yet.

This stance on the part of the UK Ministry of Defense on covering up war crimes raises many questions about the UK authorities. However, despite this the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and many other human rights organizations are simply obliged to take action against these crimes, despite attempts by certain Western political circles to wield these international institutions discriminatorily, and to make them an instrument of political manipulation.

And the political leadership in Britain – and especially the Ministry of Defense – needs to take lessons from the Australian Chief of the Defense Force Angus Campbell, who has officially apologized for the war crimes committed by his subordinates, showing real courage and public accountability by admitting these crimes by the British military. And then, like the British Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, this military and political elite in the UK just keeps “springing leaks”, showing its courage only by publishing baseless Russophobic accusations.

Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.