Hundreds of British troops to be questioned over ‘weak’ war crime allegations Up to 1,000 British troops are expected to be investigated for crimes allegedly committed during the Iraq war, it can be revealed.
Investigators with the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) have already identified more than 100 serving and former members of the armed forces who they want to interview about the alleged torture of Iraqi civilians.
But the number under investigation is expected to rise rapidly over the next 12 months as IHAT detectives begin reviewing the evidence from two public inquiries into alleged war crimes.
One, the al-Sweady Inquiry into the so-called Battle of Danny Boy in 2004, has already identified more than 500 troops who will have to give evidence and who will also be interviewed by IHAT.
Members of the SAS, the SBS, interrogators from a unit called the Joint Support Group, medics, senior officers and hundreds of soldiers are expected to be questioned.
British lawyers acting for the Iraqis claim the abuse took place between 2003 and 2008, when many civilians were detained on suspicion of being in Shia militia groups.
The vast majority of the allegations are based on witness statements by Iraqis, most of whom are seeking financial compensation from Britain, say senior sources.
Only a few servicemen have been prosecuted so far, and only four have been jailed.
Lawyers acting for troops questioned by members of IHAT, however, say the evidence against them is “extremely weak”.
One lawyer said that his client, a member of the special forces, was accused of “inhumane and degrading treatment” of a detainee because the suspected gunman had not been allowed to eat for 24 hours.
The lawyer said: “During the time the offence was alleged to have taken place, the Iraqi had been in British custody for only four hours.
“It later transpired that he had been attacking British troops for at least 12 hours, which explained why he hadn’t eaten. Yet those facts hadn’t been considered.”
In another case, a British interrogator was alleged to have assaulted an Iraqi by “hitting him on the back of the head with a piece of rolled-up A4 paper”.
And in a third charge of assault, it has been alleged that two interrogators had brutalised a suspected Iraqi insurgent by making him conduct heavy exercise over several hours.
But video evidence, revealed the suspect was only out of the interview room for two-and-a-half minutes.
Simon Mckay, a criminal law and human rights expert, who has represented several soldiers accused of war crimes, questioned the motivation behind the charges.
He said: “I have to say that given the weakness of evidence in the cases in which I have been involved, it is doubtful that a similar approach would be taken against the clients if they were civilians, which raises questions about the motivation behind some of these accusations and whether the current approach is appropriate.”
One soldier who was accused of shooting dead an Iraqi civilian said his Army career was almost destroyed by a Royal Military Police investigation.
He said: “There was never any evidence against me. It was always a scam to try and get compensation and I became the victim, although for a long while I was treated as though I was a murderer.”
The main allegations centre on the killing of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel worker who died in 2003 while in British custody; the Battle of Danny Boy, where it is alleged that British soldiers tortured and murdered Iraqi gunmen after a fire fight; and a series of interrogations by British troops at the Shaibah detention centre in Basra, southern Iraq.
One soldier has been jailed in relation to the death of Baha Mousa, at least 19 are to be investigated by IHAT, and of those three have been suspended from duty.
The allegations behind the al-Sweady inquiry, some of the most damaging to be made against UK troops, have been denied by the Army and the Ministry of Defence.
The cost of the inquiries is expected to reach £100m.