Investigations in Iraq

Sunday Telegraph 26 February 2006
Our troops face too many inquiries, says head of Army courts
Investigations into allegations of torture and abuse by British soldiers in Iraq have been undermined by a lack of "robust" leadership, according to the Armed Forces' most senior court martial judge.
The Judge Advocate General, Jeff Blackett, said that the Royal Military Police (RMP) were too "over-stretched and under resourced" to deal with the scale of inquiries that arose from military action in Iraq and, as a result, the quality of investigations had suffered.
In an outspoken interview, Judge Blackett questioned the Red Caps' policy of investigating every shooting incident involving British troops in Iraq.
Urging reform of the court martial system, he also called for sentencing powers to be vested with judge advocates claiming that, under the current system where a jury of officers decides sentence, officers were escaping with lighter sentences than soldiers.
He said: "Service officers find it very difficult to send other service officers to prison and if so find it difficult to give them long prison sentences. But they can be over harsh with junior servicemen with minor disciplinary sentences."
The judge, who served in the Royal Navy for more than 30 years, is the first senior figure in the British military to openly question the handling of investigations in Iraq. Although he stopped short of criticising the professionalism of the RMP, the judge suggested that the quality of investigations suffered because there were too few military policemen carrying out too many investigations. "Every single shooting incident was investigated and it may be that the Army could have been more robust in deciding not to investigate some of the shooting incidents," he said. "By having to investigate all of the incidents they were so thinly stretched that it meant that some investigations were not as thorough as they might have been." Asked if being "robust" amounted to strong leadership, the judge replied: "Yes".
The RMP has conducted 189 investigations in Iraq. Of those, 140 involved shooting incidents. The decision to investigate each of these incidents has angered senior officers.
By undertaking so many investigations with such limited resources the RMP had "made a rod for their own back", said the judge.
The period encompassed by these 189 investigations is not stated. The number of investigators deployed is also missing. However, in terms of incidents in NI during 1970-1972, this is not an impressive total. The scope of those Ulster enquiries may have been limited to after-contact reports. The cases in Iraq were not full-blooded investigations due to operations being in progress and other factors which limited he work done.

Referring to the controversial trial - over which he presided - in which six members of The Parachute Regiment were charged with the murder of an Iraqi civilian in May 2003, he said: "The military police were involved in more than one investigation at the time and clearly they were stretched, and that cannot be helpful to the investigation process."
Midway through the trial in November last year, Judge Blackett directed that the defendants should be found not guilty. At the time he criticised the Special Investigations Branch of the RMP for making errors during its inquiry into the death of 18-year-old Nadhem Abdullah.
It is difficult to accept that JAG really means that the Branch were incapable of undertaking more than one investigation at any one time. If this is what he believes, it will not ever be possible to conform with his suggested workload. Disasters have a habit of coming in threes. The form of inquiry adopted in NI meant that it was possible to employ General Duty provost NCOs after a brief training period and thus reduce the pressure on fully-qualified SIB NCOs.
Reflecting on the collapse of the case, he said "care" had to be taken over which incidents were investigated and said he hoped in future military lawyers would be "on the ground" to help to compile evidence.
It is difficult to see how this selectivity can be reconciled with Judge Blackett’s comments on the thoroughness of an enquiry. Any decision to hold-off an investigation is likely to lead to loss of forensic material together with witnesses best recollection. There is also the risk of embroidery following NAAFI discussions. The involvement of lawyers could be an improvement; one cannot but wonder why SIB officers lack the necessary expertise to oversee investigations.
These JAG opinions come at a time when there are also calls for some service inquiries being carried out by investigators independent of any suggestion that they are controlled by the chain of command. Exactly how some form of quango can operate in conflict situations and remain independent of CoC has not been explored. If the suspicion is that the Army wishes to block or obstruct an enquiry, this may still be accomplished regardless of who asks the questions. Where would this quango be accommodated?, who would escort, guard or guide them? And, just who would wish to undertake this task? The civil police in UK are struggling with manpower problems. The has been doubt expressed at the quality of investigations undertaken by the IPCC.
Tinkering around the edges will solve nothing. A total root and branch examination of criminal responsibility on the field of battle is the first step. ROE are written based upon the laws of England going back for centuries. Much of that is now redundant; the reasonable man on the Clapham omnibus was not wearing a haversack ready to deal out totally indiscriminate slaughter. As has been seen in the case of the Brazilian killed at the tube station, operational methods have evolved to deal with those thought to be suicide bombers. The law has not necessarily kept up with these new procedures. The soldier has to work on a massively précised version of the law – generally condensed such that it fit in his pocket and not that it covers the law. It is drafted in a vocabulary that may not be that of the average infantryman. Where a platoon officer lectures on that version of the law it is possibly the only lecture he has given since speaking for a minute about a matchbox during his selection testing. In some instances it may be plain wrong. The criteria used by the Army in NI was of ‘minimum force’ and this became a training mantra. The test used in law in NI was ‘reasonable force’ – a far looser concept. Many a soldier sweated about the consequences of his exceeding the minimum force when he had nothing to fear as his conduct was deemed ‘reasonable’

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