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DISTORTED TERMINOLOGY: THE UK'S CLOSURE OF INVESTIGATIONS INTO ALLEGED TORTURE AND INHUMAN TREATMENT IN IRAQ

  • Elizabeth Stubbins Bates (a1)

Abstract

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has closed hundreds of investigations into alleged ill-treatment of detainees by British troops in Iraq. This article probes one reason given for the closure of these investigations: the assertion (without further evidence) that the allegations were ‘less serious’, ‘lower-level’ or in the ‘middle’ range of severity. These terms usually appear without reference to international law, and are once defined with reference to the English criminal law of assault, so that investigations were closed if the alleged treatment resulted in less than grievous bodily harm. The MOD's terminology is wrong-headed and conceptually underinclusive: it fails to grasp the threshold of inhuman or degrading treatment in international human rights law (IHRL), and largely neglects the investigatory obligations in IHRL, international humanitarian law (IHL) and international criminal law (ICL).

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Copyright

Footnotes

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I am grateful to Regina Kiener, Natasa Mavronicola and Stuart Wallace for their helpful insights; and to anonymous peer reviewers for their constructive feedback. An earlier version of this work was cited in the Joint Alternative Civil Society report to the UN Committee against Torture on the 6th periodic report of the United Kingdom (REDRESS (ed), 2019), and presented at the Bonavero Discussion Group, University of Oxford in April 2019.

Footnotes

References

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1 Systemic Issues Working Group, ‘Systemic Issues Identified from Service Police and Other Investigations into Military Operations Overseas: August 2018’ (Ministry of Defence August 2018) n 3.

2 Ministry of Defence, ‘IHAT Table of Work Completed’ (October 2017).

3 Ministry of Defence, ‘MOD Decisions on Article 3 Cases’ (August 2018).

4 SIWG (n 1) para 3.1.

5 ibid.

6 T Forbes, ‘Report of the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry’ (2014) Vol I, Pt I, para 1.28, cf paras 1.29–1.30.

7 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment 10 December 1984 (entered into force 26 June 1987), 1465 UNTS 85 (CAT) art 16.

8 D Calvert-Smith, ‘Review of Iraq Historic Allegations Team’ (Attorney-General's Office and Ministry of Defence 2016) 11.

9 Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 31 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC I) art 50; Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 85 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC II) art 51; Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 135 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC III) art 130; Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 287 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC IV) art 147; Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 8 June 1977, 1125 UNTS 3 (entered into force 7 December 1978) (AP I) arts 11, 85.

10 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (adopted 1998, entered in force 1 July 2002) UNTS 2187, arts 8(2)(a)(ii), 8(2)(c)(i)-3, 8(2)(b)(xxi), 8(2)(c)(iii).

11 Palmer, S, ‘A Wrong Turning: Article 3 ECHR and Proportionality’ (2006) 65 CLJ 438; Addo, MK and Grief, N, ‘Does Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights Enshrine Absolute Rights?’ (1998) 9 EJIL 510.

12 O'Boyle, M, ‘Torture and Emergency Powers under the European Convention on Human Rights: Ireland v the United Kingdom’ (1977) 71 AJIL 674, 676.

13 Nowak, M and McArthur, E, The United Nations Convention Against Torture: A Commentary (Oxford University Press 2008) 37–8.

14 ibid 38, 40.

15 HC Deb 8 September 2011, col. 572.

16 R (Haider Ali Hussein) v Secretary of State for Defence [2014] EWCA Civ 1087.

17 At the time of writing, section 3 of the Armed Forces Act 2016 has not yet been brought into force by statutory instrument. If and when it is brought into force, there will be amendments to the language of sections 113 and 116 of the Armed Forces Act 2006.

18 Armed Forces Act (AFA) 2006 c 52, Sch 1, para 7 (Criminal Justice Act 1988 section 39); Manual of Service Law, JSP 803, Ch 8.

19 AFA 2006, Sch 1, Pt 2, para 7 (section 47 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (c 100)).

20 AFA 2006, Sch 2 para 12 (j) (section 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (c 100)).

21 AFA 2006, Sch 2, paras 12 (aq), 12 (t), 12 (ai).

22 International Criminal Court Act 2001 section 53(3); War Crimes Act 1991 section 1(3); Criminal Justice Act 1988 section 135; Geneva Conventions Act 1957 section 1A(3)(a); K Grady, ‘International Crimes in the Courts of England and Wales’ (2014) 10 CrimLR 693.

23 Alseran, Al-Waheed and Others v Ministry of Defence [2017] EWHC 3289 (QB), [2018] 3 WLR 95, paras 950–954.

24 ibid, paras 960–967.

25 ibid, para 971.

26 ibid, paras 972–977.

27 ibid, paras 501, 952, 973.

28 Alseran and Others v MOD (n 23) para 495, citing R (Al Bazzouni) v Prime Minister [2011] EWHC 2401 (Admin), [2012] 1 WLR 1389.

29 ibid, para 25.

30 Brecknell v United Kingdom (2008) 46 EHRR 42, para 70.

31 R (Al-Saadoon) v Secretary of State for Defence (No 2) [2016] 1 WLR 3625, para 198.

32 ibid, paras 283, 291.

33 ibid, para 289(iv), cited in Calvert-Smith (n 8) 11.

34 Wainwright v United Kingdom (2007) 44 EHRR 40.

35 Ireland v UK (1978) 2 EHRR 25, para 167.

36 ibid, para 162.

37 Webster, E, Dignity, Degrading Treatment and Torture in Human Rights Law: The Ends of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Routledge 2018).

38 ibid, Ireland v UK (1978) 2 EHRR 25, para 167.

39 The Greek case, Commission Report, 5 November 1969, Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights XII (1969) 186.

40 E Webster (n 37) 6, synthesising Ireland v UK (1978) 2 EHRR 25, para 167 with subsequent case law.

41 Selmouni v France (1999) 29 EHRR 403.

42 Ireland v UK (1978) 2 EHRR 25, Separate Opinion of Judge Fitzmaurice.

43 McGlinchey v UK (2003) 37 EHRR 41, Concurring Opinion of Judge Costa, para 2.

44 Assenov v Bulgaria (1998) 28 EHRR 652, para 69; Tekin v Turkey [1998] (2001) 31 EHRR 4, paras 52–53.

45 Yankov v Bulgaria (2003) 40 EHRR 36.

46 Bouyid v Belgium (2016) 62 EHRR 32, paras 87–88.

47 ibid, Dissenting Opinion of Judges De Gaetano, Lemmens and Mahoney, para 5.

48 ibid, para 7.

49 ibid, cited in Mavronicola, N, ‘Bouyid v Belgium: The “Minimum Level of Severity” and Human Dignity's Role in Article 3 ECHR’ (2016) CyprusHRLawRev 11.

50 ibid, 15 (emphasis in original).

51 Gäfgen v Germany (2011) 52 EHRR 1.

52 Peers v Greece (2001) 33 EHRR 51; Florea v Romania (App No 37186/03) [2010] ECHR; Ananyev v Russia (2012) 55 EHRR 18.

53 Frérot v France (App No 70204/01) [2007] ECHR; cf Wainwright v United Kingdom (2007) 44 EHRR 40.

54 D v United Kingdom (1997) 24 EHRR 423; cf N v United Kingdom (2008) 47 EHRR 39; see also Wellington v UK.

55 SIWG (n 1); see also Crown Prosecution Service, ‘Offences against the Person, Including Charging Standard’ (February 2018): grievous bodily harm is ‘“really serious” harm – DPP V Smith [1960] 3 WLR 546 … psychological injury not amounting to recognizable psychiatric illness does not fall within the ambit of bodily harm … R v D [2006] EWCA Crim 1139’.

56 Ireland v UK, (1978) 2 EHRR 25, para 167 (emphasis added).

57 Calvert-Smith (n 8).

58 ICC OTP, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2018), see section IV below; C Ferstman, TO Hansen and N Arajarvi, ‘The UK in Iraq: Efforts and Prospects for Accountability for International Crimes Allegations: A Discussion Paper’ (University of Essex Human Rights Centre; Ulster University Transitional Justice Initiative 2018) 8.

59 See (n 53).

60 CAT, art 4.

61 CAT, art 8.

62 UK dialogue with the UN Committee against Torture, 66th session (8 May 2019).

63 Cited in Waldron, J, ‘The Coxford Lecture: Inhuman and Degrading Treatment: The Words Themselves’ (2010) 23 Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence 269, 275.

64 Cited in ICRC, Updated Commentary on the First Geneva Convention of 1949 (ICRC, Cambridge University Press, 2016), Common Article 3, para 630.

65 CAT, art 16.

66 CAT, art 12 (read together with art 16).

67 CAT, art 13 (read together with art 16).

68 Al-Saadoon v Secretary of State for Defence [2016] EWHC 773 (Admin), paras 15, 24, 36–37, 30, 37.

69 Calvert-Smith (n 8) 11.

70 Report on Panel Sanctions to the Joint Committee, Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-B, 115, cited in International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Updated Commentary on the First Geneva Convention of 1949 (ICRC, Cambridge University Press 2016), art 50 GC I, para 2916.

71 GC I, art 50; GC II, art 51, GC III, art 130, GC IV, art 147 (emphasis added).

72 AP I, art 11(2).

73 GC I-GC IV, Common Article 3; ICRC, Updated Commentary (n 64).

74 ICC Elements of Crimes, art 8(2)(b)(xxi).

75 ICRC, Updated Commentary 2016 (Common Article 3) paras 616–618, citing ICTY, Delalić Trial Judgment, 1998, paras 550–552.

76 ibid, para 619.

77 ICRC, Updated Commentary 2016 (GC I) (n 64); ICRC, Updated Commentary on the First Geneva Convention of 1949 (ICRC, Cambridge University Press 2017), art 51 GC I.

78 ICRC, Updated Commentary 2016 (GC I) (n 64) art 50, para 2967.

79 Nowak, M, ‘Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’ in Clapham, A and Gaeta, P (eds), Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict (Oxford University Press 2013).

80 Calvert-Smith (n 8).

81 ICC Elements of Crimes, art 8(2)(b)(xxi), art 8(2)(c)(iii).

82 CAT, arts 8, 12–13 (read together with art 16).

83 McCann v United Kingdom (1996) 21 EHRR 95, para 161; Assenov v Bulgaria (1999) 28 EHRR 652.

84 Assenov v Bulgaria, paras 101–102.

85 Al-Skeini v United Kingdom (2011) 53 EHRR 18; R (on the application of Al-Skeini) v Secretary of State for Defence [2008] 1 AC 153.

86 Assenov v Bulgaria (n 83).

87 Ribitsch v Austria (1996) 21 EHRR 573, para 104.

88 Above (n 1) and (n 2).

89 Palmer (n 11).

90 Addo and Grief (n 11) 512.

91 The Greek case (n 39); Donnelly and others v the United Kingdom, 4 DR 4, cited in A Reidy, ‘The Prohibition of Torture: A Guide to the Implementation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights’ (Council of Europe 2003) 45, 47.

92 Ireland v UK (App No 5310/71) (Commission Decision) 25 January 1976.

93 A Reidy (n 91) 45; The Greek case (n 39) 195–196, Donnelly v United Kingdom (n 91).

94 Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and Its Annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land 18 October 1907, art 3; GC I, arts 49–50; GC II, arts 50–51; GC III, arts 129–130; GC IV, arts 146–147; AP I, arts 11(4), 85(3); Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects 10 October 1980, art 14; Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 26 March 1999, arts 15, 22.

95 AP I, art 86(1).

96 AP I, art 86(2).

97 AP I, art 87(1).

98 Calvert-Smith (n 8).

99 ICC OTP, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2018) paras 195–196.

100 ibid, para 198.

101 ibid, paras 200–204.

102 ibid, para 204.

103 ibid, para 202.

104 ibid, 205, 204.

105 Rome Statute (n 10) art 17(1)(d).

106 ICC OTP, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities (2018) para 208.

107 Ministry of Defence News, ‘IHAT to Close at the End of June’ (10 February 2017); P Walker, ‘Iraq War Claims Unit to Be Shut down, Says UK Defence Secretary’ The Guardian (10 February 2017).

I am grateful to Regina Kiener, Natasa Mavronicola and Stuart Wallace for their helpful insights; and to anonymous peer reviewers for their constructive feedback. An earlier version of this work was cited in the Joint Alternative Civil Society report to the UN Committee against Torture on the 6th periodic report of the United Kingdom (REDRESS (ed), 2019), and presented at the Bonavero Discussion Group, University of Oxford in April 2019.

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