17 February 2015

Torture, summary execution and war crimes in ‘nasty places’

The 'leniency' shown by the UNHRC with respect to investigations of alleged war crimes shows that violations as well as violation-investigation are framed by considerations of political expediency. What after all is the need to give breathing space to a new government?  Does it mean that 'reconciliation' as per preferred outcomes overrides rights-concern?  Why limit the whole thing to the so-called 'last stages of the war' when 'stages' is irrelevant as far as victims are concerned, when 'stages' are irrelevant to the pursuit of truth and the cause of justice?  The UNHRC is not about human rights, clearly.  This was written more than four years ago.   

There are two indisputable facts associated with the US-UK led invasion of Iraq.  First, there was absolutely no evidence of Iraq having ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ (WMD). Secondly, Nick Clegg, the British Deputy Prime Minister has confessed that the invasion was illegal. Let’s throw in a third, for laughs: if the existence of WMD warrants invasion, the US should invade Britain and Britain should return the favour.  Laughs aside, consequent to Points 1 and 2, everything that US and British troops have done in Iraq since the invasion constitutes ‘War Crimes’. 

Let’s get into specifics.  We all know about Abu Ghraib and the techniques of interrogation practiced by US troops. Sorry, not all of us, for Patricia Butenis seems to be totally ignorant about these things.  What many did not know was the fact that a similar torture chamber was run for years in Iraq by the Joint Forces Interrogation Team (JFIT). It has been dubbed ‘Britain’s Abu Ghraib’. 

There is evidence of detainees at this facility being systematically and brutally mistreated. They were starved, deprived of sleep, subjected to sensory deprivation, threatened with execution and treated in numerous ways that contravene the Geneva Convention.  Trainee interrogators have been told, it is now revealed, that they should ‘aim to provoke humiliation, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners they question’. 

We are not talking about cooked up video footage from dubious sources or pictures of people who could have been killed by anyone, by the way.  This is all beyond-shadow-of-doubt stuff.  The question that is being considered in British defense and judicial circles is not the reliability of the evidence, but whether inquiry would be in the best interest of complainants!  Nick Harvey, the Armed Forces Minister (Liberal Democrat) has gone on record to say that ‘a costly public inquiry would be unable to investigate individual criminal behaviour or impose punishments. Any such inquiry would arguably therefore not be in the best interests of the individual complainants who have raised these allegations.’  More importantly, he wants the Ministry of Defence to investigate the matter itself. 
So Britain does not want independent investigation into war crimes.  Yes, not imagined crimes and those which by no stretch of imagination can be tagged ‘systemic’, but crimes that were scripted in training manuals which had the blessings of the British Government.  The holier-than-thou in Britain calling for an ‘independent international investigation’ into alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan troops and indeed the principal mover and shaker in this matter, Patricia Butenis, do not seem to have read ‘Introduction to Interrogation and Tactical Questioning’ or, if they have, been disturbed by the contents.  That, by the way, is the Bible British interrogators swear by. 

It is telling indeed that Wikileaks has not come up with much by the way of cables exchanged by diplomats belonging to countries that together invaded Iraq expressing concern about such horrendous violations. 

There is no mention in such missives of Baha Mousa, a 26 year old Iraqi hotel receptionist who was kicked and beaten to death whilst in British army custody in Basra in September 2003. No mention of Abdul Jabbar Musa Ali, a 55-year-old head teacher, who was detained by soldiers of the Black Watch and allegedly kept hooded and beaten and whose body, when released to family, was found to be extensively bruised. No mention of Tanik Mahmoud who was kicked to death in a British Chinook helicopter by members of a Royal Air Force regiment who had detained him at a checkpoint. Nothing of Ather Karim Khalaf, shot and beaten at a British checkpoint after his car door swung open and struck a British soldier. No mention either of  Nineteen-year-old Said Shabram drowned after he was pushed into the Shatt-al-Arab waterway by British troops. These are civilians, by the way. 

The techniques apparently were perfected over decades of British counter-insurgency campaigns in Borneo, Malaya, South Arabia, Palestine, Cyprus and Northern Ireland.  The manuals stress the need for interrogators to ‘find discreet and nasty places such as shipping containers,’ and suggest places ‘out of hearing’ and ‘away from media’ to conduct interrogations.

Nasty places. Away from the media. Out of hearing.  So nasty, so far away from the media and beyond hearing that the British public will not know what their tax money is being used for, perhaps. 

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com.  This article was first published in December 2010.