Death penalty report

Attached is the latest monthly death penalty report thanks to group member Lesley for the work in compiling it.  It is a little longer than usual as there seems to be a lot of activity on the DP front.  Please note that there is no reporting from China which executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined but the details are a state secret.

May – mid June (Word)

In our links at the bottom of the site page, we have just added Human Rights Connected a Washington DC based organisation

Human rights and armed forces

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.






Legal action against soldiers

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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The arming of the Islamic State

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

#Deathpenalty report for September now available

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.

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