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Soldiers to face 11 more 'trials' over Iraq deaths

British troops are facing 11 separate inquiries into their conduct in Iraq after a "human rights" ruling by the High Court, it can be disclosed.

The inquest-style hearings were ordered by the Ministry of Defence into the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians during the British presence in the country after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Each of the hearings will take an average of three months and the inquiries will cost the taxpayer a total of 2 million.

They come on top of a series of existing and previous inquiries and amid mounting concern over the amount of legal scrutiny being turned on the Armed Forces.

It can also be disclosed that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is to make a landmark ruling on Wednesday about a separate Iraqi's death, raising fears that its increasing encroachment into domestic law will extend to the conduct of British troops on the battlefield.

The scale of investigation into operations in Iraq is disclosed after the imprisonment for a minimum of 10 years of Sgt Alexander Blackman, the Royal Marine convicted of murdering a wounded Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan.

Calls mounted for his sentence to be reduced or quashed after it was disclosed that he would need special protection in prison because of the danger that he will be attacked by Islamists.

Former senior officers and MPs said Sgt Blackman, previously known as Marine A, had been put in danger by being named. They said his sentence failed to reflect the pressures of war. Sgt Blackman saw action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lord West of Spithead, a former first lord of the Admiralty, said: "This is a man who has put his life on the line many times. I am not sure due account has been taken of this."

There were also warnings that the burden of legal scrutiny of the Armed Forces, who lost 179 lives in Iraq, was growing too heavy.

The new inquiries were ordered by the Ministry of Defence in response to a High Court ruling that any allegation that an Iraqi civilian died in British custody had to be investigated under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights -- the right to life -- which is incorporated into domestic law through the Human Rights Act.

However, the High Court dismissed demands for a public inquiry into the deaths.

The case, brought by Phil Shiner, the solicitor, led to a ruling by Sir John Thomas, now Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, that the ministry had to investigate the accusations in open inquiries.

The 11 inquiries will cover 11 deaths in British custody. Each will be chaired by a former judge or a QC and follow the format of an inquest.

However, further human rights cases may need to be investigated.

Mr Shiner has now brought or is preparing to bring a total of 160 cases alleging British involvement in the deaths of Iraqis and nearly 800 involving allegations that British troops broke Article Three of the Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture.

Mr Shiner said the 11 inquiries dealt with only a few of the cases he claims should be investigated. The ministry says it is "not yet clear" if more inquiries will be needed to deal with torture.

However, they come on top of an already vast amount of investigation into the conduct of soldiers and other members of the Armed Forces in Iraq. The biggest is the al-Sweady inquiry, which has cost more than 20 million and still has a year to go.

The public inquiry, chaired by Sir Thayne Forbes, involves the aftermath of the so-called battle of Danny Boy, in May 2004, when a British patrol was ambushed and reinforcements came under fire. Several soldiers were wounded.

An unknown number of insurgents were killed and several prisoners taken.

The inquiry is into allegations that the prisoners were mistreated, some murdered. It is named after Hamid al-Sweady, 19, an alleged victim.

The Ministry of Defence has set aside 5 million a year for a police-style inquiry into allegations of abuse of civilians. The Iraq Historic Allegations Team involves 80 serving or former detectives.

It was launched after court martial proceedings brought over the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died in British custody, led to only one conviction.

That death was also the subject of an extensive public inquiry, led by Sir William Gage, a retired appeal court judge, which cost 25 million.

MPs and former military commanders said last night that human rights laws had created a taxpayer-funded "bean feast" for lawyers that could undermine military work.

Col Tim Collins, who led 1st Bn the Royal Irish Regiment during the Iraq invasion, said: "The Human Rights Act has a lot to answer for. It has turned into a bean feast for ambulance-chasing lawyers. They are trying to apply the rules that you would to a fairground, to Her Majesty's Armed Forces."

Julian Brazier MP, a former SAS reservist who sits on the Commons defence committee, said: "I am firmly in favour of the military processes that are in place examining allegations of breaches of the Geneva Convention.

"This feast for human rights lawyers is an abuse of process, demoralising for the Armed Forces."

Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset and a former soldier, said the legal inquiries could affect the Armed Forces' ability to operate.

The Strasbourg case on Wednesday could open the way for fresh claims from Iraq. The court will hear from relatives of Tarek Hassan, the brother of a senior official in Saddam Hussein's regime.

Mr Hassan was arrested by British troops after the 2003 invasion and taken to an American-run base near Um Qasr called Camp Bucca.

His relatives claim British troops took him as a hostage to lure out his brother.

Mr Hassan's body was found months later, riddled with bullets, north of Baghdad.

British courts have already rejected the case, but his family is suing in Strasbourg.

A ministry spokesman said: "We welcome the decision of the High Court to reject demands for a public inquiry into all allegations of wrongdoing by British forces in Iraq, which it argued would not be a reasonable or proportionate use of taxpayers' money."

[Source: By Ben Farmer, The Telegraph, London, 07Dec13]

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War in Iraq
small logoThis document has been published on 11Dec13 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.