Shameful bill grants free pass for British Iraq war crimes
Talk to BBC Panorama she describes the moment as one she will never forget: “They shot the boys in the head. They were placed next to each other and their brains were out.”
Later Major Chris Green, based near the village where Bebe lived, said: “We had no information to suggest that they were members of the Taliban. There was nothing to suggest that they were bad men doing bad things. Most of the allegations in the program are based on evidence made by British soldiers and there are dozens of stories like Bebe’s of civilians being shot in cold blood.
Or civilians tortured, or children killed.
The adoption of the second reading of the Bill on foreign operations Wednesday means these people will probably never receive justice. The bill makes it much more difficult to prosecute overseas personnel for war crimes such as torture and murder if they took place more than five years ago. The implications of this are breathtaking. It is a bill that effectively grants immunity to those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq from prosecution.
Last year, a joint investigation by the BBC and the Sunday opening hours obtained evidence that the British government and the British military were involved in the cover-up of the murder of civilians and children in Afghanistan and Iraq. The evidence was leaked by the Iraqi Historical Allegations Team (IHAT) which had been opened to investigate war crimes in Iraq committed by British soldiers.
|This is a bill that effectively grants immunity to those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq from prosecution.|
In 2017, IHAT was shut down when attorney Phil Shiner was struck off for professional misconduct. It has been suggested that this was a political decision, as the organization was shut down, rather than put under someone else’s responsibility, and the incident was used to discredit any allegations made by the team.
A former IHAT detective told BBC Panorama, “The Defense Ministry had no plans to prosecute any soldier regardless of rank, unless absolutely necessary, and they couldn’t get away.”
This new bill now makes prosecution even more unlikely. The lack of opposition he encountered during his time in parliament is also worrying. Not a single Conservative MP voted against and worse yet, most of the main opposition members in parliament – the Labor Party – abstained. The Liberal Democrats, SNP and Plaid Cymru voted against the bill, but were only joined by a meager 18 Labor MPs.
These MPs broke the party whip to vote against the bill and, as a result, three of them were fired of the front seat.
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The move was widely criticized by Labor members, but also reflects the party’s role in the context of these lawsuits, as it was the previous Labor government that made the decision to drag Britain into an illegal war against Iraq in 2003. This led to the UK’s largest public protest, which saw over a million people demonstrate in the anti-war movement in London.
Despite the public outcry, the invasion still took place. This fact was raised by Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace during a heated exchange in parliament this week, who said the bill was a response to the “mess” created by the Labor government’s “illegal wars”.
Let us pause for a moment to take stock: Reports of torture and other crimes against humanity have already been made public, but this bill seeks to put those who committed them above the law.
Torture is prohibited by several international treaties to which the UK is a party. This includes the United Nations Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights. There was a widespread and vehement outcry against the government is breaking international law on Brexit just less than a month ago. Why has this bill, a law which is an even greater violation of international law and also of human rights, not received the same outcry?
|Reports of torture and other crimes against humanity have already been made public, but this bill aims to put those who have committed them above the law|
In an effort to distance himself from the former head of Labor, Keir Starmer kissed a coat of patriotism and the pitfalls that go with it. His predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, has often been criticized for having a more international outlook. This may partly explain why Starmer pushed the party to abstain from a vote that would make it more difficult to prosecute veterans, even when tortured.
To understand why this bill could be passed so easily, it is also necessary to understand the current political and social climate in Britain. There has been a lot of talk since the last general election about being ‘proud to be British’. Prime Minister Boris Johnson used British values and manipulated the exceptionalism of the British people to cover up a series of flaws in its approach to the coronavirus crisis.
The Labor Party, in response to this, has also adopted an overtly patriotic image.
This partly explains why no attempt was made to prevent this bill from passing, but it certainly does not justify it. It’s a dark time for human rights and is particularly biting after the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, which began to address Britain’s long and ugly history of imperialism and war crimes. .
|That he only faced the slightest obstacle on both sides of the political house is perhaps one of the bitterest pills to swallow|
As Labor MP Apsana Begum – one of 18 rebel MPs – wrote in her Article from the Tribune, “A war crime does not stop being a war crime after five years.”
But now, thanks to this bill, the victims of these crimes will face a justice system that is designed to never do them justice. That he only faced the slightest obstacle on both sides of the political house is perhaps one of the most bitter pills to swallow.
Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. His work has been published in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.
Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board, or its team.