The Ministry of Defence continues to pay the price for what the Baha Mousa inquiry termed its "corporate failure" in Iraq, having paid out £8.3m to 162 Iraqi torture victims this year alone. While the figures speak volumes, the payments remain shrouded in secrecy.
This compensation leaves a sour taste: although it is an important measure of redress for victims, it is certainly not justice done. The full truth of what happened is yet to emerge, and those responsible have not been held to account. There is still no sign that the government is prepared to do the right thing and establish a full independent public inquiry into torture and ill-treatment by members of the British armed forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.
This failure is part of a clear pattern. When allegations of abuse are made they are first downplayed – any wrongdoing, we are told, is down to a "few rotten apples" – then, if any investigations do follow, they are carried out within existing military structures. This "trust us, we will deal with it" approach has long since lost credibility; as for rotten apples, the numbers of victims are too large and the patterns of abuse too similar to speak of exceptions.
The government's solution to the large number of allegations of torture and ill-treatment from 2003 to 2008 was to establish the Iraqi Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) and the Iraq Historic Allegations Panel (IHAP). The cases they are meant to investigate are anything but historic, being actively pursued by hundreds of victims.
Looking at the allegations made, it is clear why the need for truth and justice is so pressing. The claims made by Ali Zaki Mousa, one of 140 Iraqis who won a court of appeal battle for a new inquiry, are typical: "The claimant, an Iraqi citizen, was arrested on 16 November 2006 by British soldiers. They beat him severely, slammed him against a wall and forced him into a stress position in which they stood on his knees and back. His 11-month-old son's arm was stamped on and broken, and his father had to urinate on himself ... They hooded and handcuffed [him] ..." More was to follow, including sexual abuse Abu Ghraib style. Over 140 Iraqis alleged similar violations in that case, detailing methods including "mock executions, beating with weapons or fists or feet, punching, slapping, kicking, spitting".
As a matter of human rights law, the UK government must investigate credible allegations of torture promptly, independently and effectively. Investigations must be capable of establishing the facts, identifying the perpetrators and uncovering any systemic causes. Was IHAT fit for this purpose? The answer of the court of appeal, in its judgment in the Ali Zaki Mousa case, was an emphatic no. The close involvement of military personnel that had served in Iraq compromised its independence.
The court sent the government back "to reconsider how the Article 3 obligation [duty to investigate] should now be satisfied". In response, the Royal Military Police was removed from IHAT with the Royal Navy Police carrying out its role instead. However, this was promptly challenged in a judicial review, with claimants arguing that the Royal Navy Police lacked independence because it was involved in interrogations in Iraq.
It is time for a proper inquiry. The Iraqi victims, their families and communities have a right to see justice done. The British public, for its part, needs to learn what British forces did in its name. Ultimately, it is time to come clean and prevent history from repeating itself, from the torture condoned in the suppression of the Mau Mau in Kenya, through Northern Ireland, to Iraq.
Lutz Oette is a lecturer in law at Soas, University of London, and legal counsel at Redress.