This article appeared in Ceylon Today on November 27 2019 under the title: “Hurling War Crimes Allegations. The Western Media’s Selective Amnesia”.
The western media has predictably greeted the election of our new president with rehashed allegations of war crimes. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election was reported on Sunday November 17 2019 (over ten years since the LTTE were defeated). On that same date, one newspaper, The London Sunday Times, owned by Rupert Murdoch, led with a story about horrendous crimes committed by British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not all of the information is new. What is shocking is the extent of the crimes and of the tireless efforts of the British government to suppress the facts. The Insight team of the Sunday Times and the BBC Panorama programme have been carrying out a year-long investigation. The Panorama programme was broadcast on Monday November 18. They claim that two thick files have been kept under lock and key behind the barbed wire security fences of the Trenchard Lines military base near Salisbury Plain.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) investigated alleged war crimes committed by British troops during the occupation of Iraq starting in 2003; Operation Northmoor investigated alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The government’s excuse for calling off the investigations in 2017 was that Phil Shiner, a lawyer who had taken more than 1,000 cases to IHAT, was struck off as a solicitor following allegations that he had paid fixers in Iraq to find clients. That does not explain why the files were kept locked up.
Publicity had already been given to some of the cases featured in the Panorama programme. I have myself written about the case of Baha Mousa.
According to Sir William Gage’s report: “Baha Mousa was pronounced dead at 22.05hrs. A subsequent post mortem found that in the course of his detention… Baha Mousa had sustained 93 separate external injuries. He was also found to have internal injuries including fractured ribs.”
Baha Mousa was a receptionist at the Ibn al-Haitham Hotel in Basra who was captured in a raid by Britain’s finest on 14 September 2003 after a cache of arms and uniforms was found in his workplace. The army had found weapons including grenades, rifles, bayonets and suspected bomb-making equipment. Along with nine others, he was taken in for “questioning”.
Corporal Donald Payne killed a man. That’s what soldiers do. Here is how Payne killed Baha Mousa. Payne violently assaulted Baha Mousa, punching and kicking. This ended with Baha Mousa lying inert on the floor. According to the Gage Report: “I find that from the outset of their incarceration in the TDF (temporary detention facility) the Detainees were subjected to assaults by those who were guarding them and, in particular, by Payne. I find that they were also assaulted from time to time by others who happened to be passing by the TDF. The assaults by the guards were instigated and orchestrated by Payne. He devised a particularly unpleasant method of assaulting the detainees, known as the “choir”. It consisted of Payne punching or kicking each detainee in sequence, causing each to emit a groan or other sign of distress. Baha’s father was a senior police officer, permitted by the British to carry a pistol and wear his blue uniform. Colonel Mousa believed the real reason his son was killed was he had seen several British troops opening the hotel safe and stuffing currency into their pockets.
At a court martial Payne was charged with manslaughter, inhumane treatment and perverting the course of justice. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in prison.
Panorama has re-examined the evidence in a number of alleged war crimes cases. One such case was the shooting of an Iraqi policeman by a British soldier on patrol in Basra in 2003. Raid al-Mosaw was shot by a British soldier in an alleyway as he left his family home. Major Christopher Suss-Francksen confidently concluded that the soldier was legitimately acting in self-defence. IHAT detectives spent two years investigating the case and interviewed 80 British soldiers, including the soldier Suss-Francksen claimed had witnessed the shooting. The soldier told IHAT: “This report is inaccurate and gives the impression that I was an eyewitness. This is not true.” This soldier and many others confirmed that they only heard one shot which means that Raid al-Mosaw could not have fired first. The Sunday Times states bluntly that Suss-Francksen faked evidence.
IHAT detectives say they found evidence of widespread abuse at Camp Stephen, a British army base in Basra run by the Black Watch and used as an unofficial detention centre. One of the detectives told Panorama that the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners, most of whom were innocent, was “endemic” at the base. There was nothing spontaneous about the many horrendous crimes committed Camp Stephen. The culture of abuse was sanctioned at senior levels. The open layout of the camp would have made it obvious to officers what was happening. There is a stinking fetor of complicity and cover-up.
Detectives working on Operation Northmoor investigated a night raid in Helmand province, Afghanistan on October 18, 2012 during which a special forces soldier killed four males aged 20, 17, 14 and 12 in the guest room of a family home in Loy Bagh village. They were merely drinking tea. Relatives had to mop up teeth, bone and brain flesh from the heavily-stained carpet. Investigators expected the soldier to be charged with four counts of murder and referred the case to the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA). They also wanted to prosecute the commanding officer, along with his superior, for falsifying a report and for perverting the course of justice. Military prosecutors decided not to bring charges.
Predictably, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab refused to be drawn on whether these claims were new to him, and said that prosecuting authorities for the British armed forces are “some of the most rigorous in the world”. It is instructive to contrast Raab’s attitude with the response of Enoch Powell to the atrocities at the Hola Camp in Kenya in 1959.
Former Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald (now Warden of Wadham College, Oxford) has examined the evidence gathered by the Sunday Times and concludes: “In 2002, the International Criminal Court was set up, with Britain’s enthusiastic support, to prosecute crimes against humanity where individual nations were too cowardly, incompetent or unwilling to bring their own citizens to justice in the face of compelling evidence of the gravest international crimes. Now, as that court turns its eyes towards us, we are forced to confront the unnerving possibility that one of those derelict nations might be our own.”