Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

British soldiers take Iraqi prisoners in Basra (Photo: REUTERS).

World Court to Target UK for War Crimes in Iraq

ICC announces preliminary investigation into allegations of atrocities 'involving systematic detainee abuse'

Sarah Lazare

Eleven years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, not a single high-level official has been held accountable for the numerous war crimes perpetrated throughout the war. Yet, a Tuesday announcement that the International Criminal Court is re-opening a "preliminary" investigation into charges that British troops systemically perpetrated atrocities in Iraq raised the faint possibility that this could change.

"It is good news that the ICC is finally going to look at the extraordinary and serious war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Iraq War and the lead-up to it," said Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams. "The bad news is that this is very late and the U.S. is not in the docket."

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda came to the decision after being presented with new evidence alleging the "responsibility of officials of the United Kingdom for war crimes involving systematic detainee abuse in Iraq from 2003 until 2008," according to an ICC statement.

In 2006, then-ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo turned down an investigation into UK abuses in Iraq after determining the acts did not have sufficient "gravity"—citing a supposed lack of victims, among other factors.

Yet new evidence presented by Germany-based human rights group European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and UK law firm Public Interest Lawyers indicates hundreds of Iraqi people have been abused by the UK military as a matter of policy stemming from the chain of command.

ECCHR and PIL evaluated testimony from more than 400 former detainees and selected for ICC review 109 of them—which together expose more than 2,000 inhumane acts from March 2003 to December 2008. Charges of abuse, including sexual assault, hooding, and food, water, and sleep deprivation, are summarized in a video produced by ECCHR:

In a statement following the ICC's announcement, the British government rejected the allegations of war crimes and indicated it is thoroughly investigating the charges, so ICC jurisdiction is unnecessary.

Yet, ECCHR argues, "UK officials have been all too reluctant to prosecute or investigate the high ranking officials for the systemic abuses committed in Iraq."

“The reopening of the investigation represents a milestone for Iraqi victims and for international criminal law,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck.

Bennis says that it is far from certain that the ICC will press war crimes charges against top UK officials, but nonetheless, the possibility is "hugely important."

The UK is the only Western country that has faced a preliminary investigation by the ICC—a global body that the U.S. has refused to participate in.

"The refusal of the U.S. to put itself under jurisdiction of international law is a huge impediment to the court's capacity to function as a global court," said Bennis. "It's not the only example. We see this in decisions to go to war despite UN opposition, as well as blatant violations of international law and war crimes, including attacks on civilians, torture, imprisonment without trial and assassinations."

Said Kaleck, "Those who violate human rights must be brought to justice regardless of how powerful they may be."

_____________________


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Dark Money Is Dark Money': Sanders Calls on DNC to Ban Super PAC Cash in Primaries

"A super PAC is a super PAC, whether it is funded by Republican billionaires or Democratic billionaires," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Jake Johnson ·


Study Finds Many Existing Oil and Gas Sites Must Be Shut Down to Avert Climate Disaster

"Our findings show that halting new extraction projects is a necessary step, but still not enough to stay within our rapidly dwindling carbon budget," said one researcher.

Jake Johnson ·


'Cancel It, Don't Means Test It!' Omar Says of Student Debt

Progressive lawmakers and other critics continue to warn the Biden administration against the "logistical nightmare" of limiting debt cancellation by income.

Jessica Corbett ·


Trump DOJ Casting Long Shadow Over Biden Admin: Analysis

The Biden administration "should adopt Trump's positions about as often as a stopped clock is accurate," the Revolving Door Project argues.

Brett Wilkins ·


'Fueling the Flames': Model Shows Growing Risk of Wildfires in US

"It's time to end fossil fuels and better manage our forests."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo