Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’


The monthly death penalty report is available thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.

January report

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Claire Perry writes in the Salisbury Journal

Claire Perry MP. Picture: thedrum

Claire Perry, the Conservative MP for Devizes in Wiltshire, said in her piece in the Salisbury Journal that:

[at the recent Tory party conference] … there were other important announcements to celebrate including the news that the government will put an end to the vexatious and damaging legal claims against members of the Armed Forces that arise from applying European Court of Human Rights judgements in the battlefield.

It is scandalous that highly trained and professional soldiers have been subjected to vexatious legal claims second-guessing their decision-making and that since 2004, the MoD has spent over £100 million on Iraq-related investigations, inquiries and compensation – money that should be spent on our troops not lawyers.   Salisbury Journal 27 October 2016

The problem with Claire Perry’s piece – largely copied from the statement by the Defence Minister at the conference – is that it is highly selective and largely untrue.  The picture painted is of our soldiers, operating in difficult and extremely dangerous environments, being pursued by lawyers, sorry ‘vexatious lawyers’, on the make.  The reality is quite different.

Firstly, it is part of a consistent and long running campaign by the right-wing media and tabloids against the Human rights Act and the European Court.  They do not like it because it provides protections for ordinary citizens and in particular, against the invasion of privacy by those self-same papers.  So at a party conference, appealing to that part of the media is only to be expected.

But more specifically, to take one element the statement: ‘claims against members of the armed forces …’ gives the impression that the claims are only about the soldiers themselves.  Many of the claims are against the MoD for not taking sufficient or reasonable care of their men.  So one claim for example was on behalf of a soldier who died of heatstroke serving in 50 degrees of heat in Iraq.  There is also the whole business of Deepcut and the soldiers who died there.  Others involve the Army sending men off in insufficiently protected land rovers.

The phrase ‘applying European Court of Human Rights judgements in the battlefield’ is doubly disingenuous.  Firstly, it is the application of the Human Rights Act which is causing the problem.  Adding the ECHR is just to appeal to those who do not like Europe and trying to shift the blame to Strasbourg who often have little if anything to do with it.  ‘Battlefield’ is also slipped in to create the impression of brave soldiers being pursued by lawyers (keep forgetting – vexatious lawyers) with outrageous claims.

What many of the claims are about is how prisoners are treated once they are taken captive, not on the battlefield.  One such claim was a man thrown into a canal in Baghdad and left to drown.  Many others relate to beatings and other mistreatment of prisoners.  If the courts have investigated claims and the MoD has been forced to pay compensation it argues that something is adrift.

Perhaps Claire Perry should ask herself why do we go to war in the first place?  Part of the answer is to promote our values.  We want to promote democracy and the rule of law.  We become involved in part to try and instill those values.  If our soldiers – not on the battlefield but back at base – are mistreating prisoners then those are not our values.  Although there was a lot of nonsense about weapons of mass destruction, one reason we went into Iraq was because Sadam Hussein treated his people abominably.  The results of bad treatment in places like Syria are visible to us every day with the refugee crisis.

It is a great pity that nonsense like this is both written and then published without challenge.

 

 

 

 

 


The death penalty report is now available thanks to group member Lesley for the work in putting it together.  The report covers several countries but it must always be remembered that China leads the world in executing its citizens.

August – September

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No to the death penaltyWe attach the latest monthly death penalty report with thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it.  A fairly full report with a big section on Turkey which is contemplating reintroducing the death penalty following the recent failed coup.

August report (pdf)


 

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There has been a great deal of coverage in the last few days concerning legal actions against British soldiers.  Mr Cameron – the British Prime Minister – wants to put an end to them.   This is an edited version of the sermon given by the Reverend Lieutenant Colonel N J Mercer at the Amnesty International service held on Thursday 17 October 2013 at Salisbury Cathedral It was first published two years ago.


Two weeks ago in our Benefice we had a week of fasting for “Stand Fast For Justice.”  Stand Fast for Justice is a campaign which is currently being sponsored by the Charity Reprieve.  In this week of Benefice Fasting, parishioners – aged 12 to 90 – fasted in sympathy with the prisoners at Guantanamo who are currently on hunger strike and being force fed.  In particular we remembered Shaker Aamer.  Shaker Aamer is British and has been cleared twice by the Guantanamo authorities for release.  Once by George Bush and once by Barak Obama.  Yet he remains in custody.  It appears that he was nothing more than an innocent bystander, caught up in the fog of war, for which he has lost eleven years of his life.

Most alarming is his claim that he was tortured at Bagram Airbase and at Guantanamo and that MI5 have been complicit in his torture.  The reason for his delay – some allege – is that if he is released he will reveal details of his treatment.  The authorities want him sent back to Saudi Arabia even though he is British Resident.  His family live in South London and he has a son whom he has never seen

My background

The service this evening is the Amnesty International Service which remembers, in particular, prisoners of conscience.  These are individuals who are held in prison for their conscientiously held beliefs and who lose their liberty for no other reason than holding the wrong opinions or beliefs. They are wholly innocent of any crime.  And it this category of wholly innocent prisoner which is my own nexus for me being asked to preach this evening.

For there is another category of wholly innocent prisoner, and that is the prisoner of war.  As their title suggests, these individuals are imprisoned for no other reason that they were on the opposing side in an armed conflict.  As the Geneva Conventions state, they become prisoners of war when they fall “into the power of the enemy” and for no other reason (Art 5 1949 GCIII).

Some of you may know my background, but I was the senior legal adviser in Theatre for the Iraq War in 2003.  I had legal responsibility for all operations in the field, and this included the difficult issue of prisoners of war.  I became embroiled with this issue which arose quite by chance whilst visiting the Prisoner of War camp in Um Qsar in March 2003.  I went down to visit the camp – on a totally unrelated matter – and as I entered the facility, I glanced down a hessian corridor at the entrance. Unknowingly, I was looking at the Joint Force Interrogation Unit and to my horror, I saw about thirty – forty Iraqi prisoners, hooded and in stress positions, kneeling in the sand in 40% heat and with a generator running outside the interrogation tent

As a soldier, I knew exactly what was going on.  The interrogators were trying to intimidate the prisoners.  I intervened and demanded to know what was going on.  The Officer Commanding replied that he didn’t take his orders from me but “direct from London”. I was told that such practises were “in accordance with UK doctrine”.  Needless to say, I was unable to change the situation there and then but I reported matter to the British Commander that evening.  It led to an unseemly row between lawyers the interrogators and higher Headquarters.  It was only the intervention of the Red Cross which turned the tide in my favour.

The ‘5 techniques’

There was, as many have remarked, a general indifference to prisoners.  Six months later however, a prisoner called Baha Mousa was beaten to death during tactical questioning.  The whole episode was examined first at Court Martial and then in the Public Inquiry that followed.  It was revealed that not only were prisoners hooded and in stress positions, but were also being deprived of food and sleep and were probably being subjected to what is termed “white noise”.  Indeed, one prisoner had been chained to a generator whilst it was running and belching out carbon monoxide.

These so called 5 techniques were banned in 1978 after the United Kingdom was taken to the European Court of Human Rights (Ireland v UK) – yet somehow they had remained in use.

This episode was to have a profound effect on my life.  Like so many pivotal moments in our lives, it set me on a journey that I neither expected nor desired.  I left the Army in 2011.  Not long afterwards however, a book called “Cruel Britannia” dropped through my letter box.  The publishers (Portobello Books) asked me to review the book and I felt flattered as I had never been asked to review a book before.  The book horrified me.  It revealed a catalogue of torture by the British from the end of the Second World War and throughout the colonial campaigns of Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus and Aden.  Then onto Northern Ireland and Iraq and to the episodes which are described above.

There was one particular quote I want to share with you about the treatment of Mau Mau prisoners in Kenya:

Men were whipped, clubbed, subjected to electric shocks, mauled by dogs and chained to vehicles before being dragged around.  Some were castrated.  The same instruments used to crush testicles were used to remove fingers.  It was far from uncommon for men to be beaten to death (Cruel Britannia p 81)

The assistant chief of police in Kenya at that time (Duncan MacPherson) said that:

The conditions I found existing in some camps were worse, far worse, than anything I experienced in my four and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese

 The British myth

The British narrative is that we are a people who pride themselves on decency and fair play, except it is a myth.  We have been unspeakably cruel to our prisoners in the post war period and that includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

I recently spoke at a dinner hosted by the Tablet where I met a young SAS Trooper called Ben Griffin.  You may or may not have heard of him.  But he was first in the Parachute Regiment and then the SAS and a thoroughly decent soldier.  However, he was so appalled by the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan that he refused to soldier on.  He said that Coalition Forces were treating prisoners as “sub-humans” and that we were “accepting illegality as the norm.”  Rather than Court Martial him, he was discharged honourably from the SAS.  His Commanding Officer described him as a “balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions.”

He now lives under a High Court injunction.  If he reveals what he knows about prisoners and he will go to jail.  But he is not the only one whose silence has been wrought.  Those former prisoners, like Shaker Aamer, who seek to bring a claim against the British Authorities, now have to do so in a secret court where they can neither have their own lawyer, see the evidence against them nor challenge the witnesses or judgement against them.  This is thanks to the “Justice and Security Act” which was skilfully managed through Parliament this year.

I recently preached on the Roman Persecutions in the Early Church where the historian Tertullian – a lawyer and a priest – wrote in his Apology (197) how the Roman Authorities similarly rigged the trials of the early Christians.  Now we rig the trials of prisoners and silence those who seek to speak out on their behalf.

As an Army Officer, I expected the State to behave honourably.  What I stumbled upon was what one commentator described as “Britain’s dirty little secret”.  What the Telegraph journalist Peter Oborne recently described as a “ghastly cloud” which overshadows this country.  We have as a nation kidnapped innocent men and women and we have been complicit in their torture.  Then we have covered it up; wholly innocent prisoners, be they prisoners of war or prisoners of conscience, it amounts to the same thing.

In this service, in this beautiful Cathedral, in this rural idyll of Salisbury, most are oblivious to our own sordid history.  The psalmist tells us that God “hears the groans of the prisoners” (Psalm 102:20).  The United Kingdom still actively supresses those groans on threat of imprisonment or injunction.  This, of course, happens all over the world, but if it can happen so easily in one of the world’s oldest democracies – on our watch – just think how easily it can flourish elsewhere.


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Amnesty publishes a report on arming of IS

Last week we had the debate in Parliament about bombing the Islamic State IS or Da’esh as some call it.  This was occasioned by the outrage in Paris and the massacre of ordinary people in that city.  Parliament voted in favour of bombing and since then we have had recriminations in the Labour party between those who voted for and those against.

It is timely therefore that a report has been published by Amnesty International called Taking Stock: the Arming of the Islamic State.  All politicians should read it.  As we have noted several times on this blog, one cannot but help notice that when pictures are shown of IS fighters, they are well equipped and armed to the teeth.  So where do all these arms come from?  The report explains where and how in great detail.

The major source is Iraq supplemented by materiel taken from the Syrian army.  The Iraq weapons were supplied by the coalition forces but because they were irresponsibly guarded, it was easy for them to be stolen or looted.  As the report puts it, ‘there were decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq principally by Russia, France and China.’

The supply and transfer of weapons was governed by a global treaty adopted by the UN in 2013.  It places international human rights law, humanitarian law and criminal law standards alongside other international benchmarks for assessing the authorisation of exports and other transfers of conventional arms.

The report documents the astonishing amount of weaponry possessed by IS (the range and types are listed at the end).  Although a total of 25 countries have been identified as suppliers – including some from the former Soviet Union – it is the Security Council members P5 who are the main culprits.

The Iraq invasion cast a long shadow over the region.  Arms were poured in and in the chaos, thousands of weapons were lost to the militants.  The Arms Trade Treaty was designed to put a stop to irresponsible activity and it will take a long time to take effect.  We noted in an earlier blog that the UK and the US continues to supply Saudi Arabia which is bombing Yemen creating fertile ground for the next wave of insurrection.

It is much to be regretted that the House of Commons would not be packed or buzzing with excitement if the question of arms supplies was being debated.  Yet unless and until arms supplies are curtailed to regions such as the middle east, organisations like IS will prosper in the chaos.  Bombing the result seems a little pointless.  

 

 

IS arms report


No to the death penaltyThe death penalty report for September is now available thanks to Lesley for compiling it.  Links to other blog posts and in particular the continuing correspondence with John Glen MP concerning the government’s policy change on the death penalty.

Death penalty report, September

Report on possible reductions in the use of the death penalty by India and China.  This is to be welcomed although we cannot verify the situation in the latter country because the numbers executed are a state secret.


DEATH PENALTY SUMMARYNo to the death penalty

DECEMBER 2014

This is the summary for the group’s December meeting pulling together various news items about the use of the death penalty around the world.  We would like to draw your attention to a web site Penal Reform International, with useful information on the death penalty.  It is now in the list of links at the bottom of this site.

General

  • Ethiopia – Andrew Tsage, a political refugee in the UK since 1979, has been placed in solitary confinement and is under threat of execution.  He had been arrested at an Airport in Yemen, and sent on to Ethiopia.  International concern has been expressed at the deterioration of human rights and freedom of expression in Ethiopia.  David Cameron has written personally to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, but the Foreign Office say Tsage is not being held illegally.
  • USA –
  • Missouri – 19.11.14.  Leon Taylor was executed, despite disagreement over the type of sentence which should have been imposed.  This was the ninth execution in Missouri this year.
  • Texas – 4.12.14 – a US Federal Court issued a stay of execution hours before Scott Panetti was due to die, following representations from his lawyers regarding his mental health.
  • Saudi Arabia – 20.11.14 – the family of Simon Cumbera, an Irish national murdered while filming a news item, have expressed regret at the death sentence passed on Adil Sa’ad Al-Dubayti Al Mutayri.
  • Pakistan
  • Mohammad Asghar – David Cameron has commented in Parliament on the ‘appalling treatment’ received in prison by this Scottish man accused of blasphemy and shot while in prison.  Reprieve is trying to prevent his return from hospital to prison
  • 25.11.14 – Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death following a conviction of ‘insulting the Prophet Muhammad, has filed her final appeal against execution
  • China – 25.11.14 – According to his lawyer, Nian Bin, a former death row prisoner acquitted of the charge of poisoning two children, is now being investigated again by the police.  They have refused to accept the Court’s decision and are restricting his movements.  Acquittals are rare in China, but this one prompted renewed calls for the abolition of the death penalty.
  • Thailand – 26.11.14 – Death sentences were passed by Pattani Provincial Court on five suspected militants convicted of killing four soldiers.  Human Rights Watch have accused Thailand of double standards, saying the Army was also responsible for rights violations.
  • Egypt – 2.12.14 following the dropping of murder charges against ex-President Hosni Mubarak, a Court sentenced 188 of his supporters to death in connection with the killing of 13 policemen in August 2013.
  • Cameroon – 3.12.14 – it was reported that Lawmakers are to vote on whether to implement the death penalty for people convicted of acts of terrorism.  This is in response to the activities of the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, on its border.
  • Indonesia – AI have called on the Indonesian Government to halt its plans to execute 5 people by the end of the year.

Urgent Actions

  • Bangladesh – UA283/14 – Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, a leading member of an opposition party, is at imminent risk of execution before being able to lodge an appeal.  Circulated to DPLWG 17.11.14
  • Iraq – UA300/14 – Ahmed Al-Alwani, a former member of Iraq’s Parliament, has been sentenced to death for killing two soldiers, following a trial marred with irregularities.  He has only a month to appeal.  Circulated to DPLWG 28.11.14. (This month’s Group DP Urgent Action)
  • Saudi Arabia – UA 309/09 – Ali Agirdas, convicted of drug trafficking after an unfair trial, was executed on 20th November.  His family learned of this through the media, and the authorities are refusing to release his body to them.  Circulated to DPLWG 28.11.14.
  • USA – Florida – UA 162/14 – the execution of Shane Kormondy has been scheduled for 15th January.  Kormondy was found guilty of the murder of Gary McAdams in 1993.  This would be the 21st execution under the governorship of Rick Scott.

Campaigning

  • Reggie Clemons – there has been no further news.  The Justice for Reggie website has not been updated since August.
Moses Akatugba

Moses Akatugba

  • Moses Akatugba – further cards were signed for Moses at the Amnesty Film Night at the Arts Centre

#stoptorture #deathpenalty.  The November report on the death penalty is attached thanks to groupNo to the death penalty member Lesley for compiling this.

Death Penalty Report


Don’t forget you can access other sites with a human rights theme from the blog roll at the bottom of this page.


There were announcements by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and by the Prime Minister last week saying that the terror threat has been raised to ‘severe,’ one down from the highest.  This came about following news that people have been leaving this country to fight for the #IslamicState formerly known as #ISIS.  Some are said to be returning and having been radicalised, pose an increased threat to this country.

A package of anti-terrorism measures are currently being worked on for presentation to Parliament when it reconvenes.  The decision was taken following advice from the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

Governments – and ours is no different – are frequently looking for more powers especially of an intelligence nature.  They want to demonstrate that they care for our safety and it is a way to be seen to take action.  The fact that inaction has been clear in terms of what is going on in Iraq and our policy towards it doesn’t seem to matter: at home new powers are needed and MPs will no doubt airing their views inside and outside the House of Commons.

Are these extra powers really needed?  The government and its agencies already have a huge armoury of powers at their disposal enabling them to intercept messages, phone calls, internet traffic, emails and so forth.  As has been shown, there is too little control being exercised by parliament over this activity and the key committee had little idea of the scale of it.

These proposals, combined with the parallel plans to make people stateless, show that there is a degree of knee-jerk reaction to events in Iraq.

The worry has to be that the proposals will represent a further erosion of our liberties.  Once the new powers are enshrined into law and the terror threat is reduced, will they be removed?  Unlikely on past form and they will have represented a ratcheting up of intrusion into our lives.

Our liberties and freedoms were hard won and we need to be especially vigilant when governments seek to limit or curtail them.  It will be interesting to follow the debate when it happens.