This is like some twisted take on a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera:
The UK government has received so many complaints from Iraqis who were unlawfully detained and allegedly mistreated by British troops that its defence ministry says it is unable to say how many millions of pounds have been paid to settle the claims.
Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials in London say they can provide approximate figures for the thousands of Iraqis who have lodged complaints against British forces involved in the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
However, they maintain that they cannot disclose how much UK taxpayers’ money has been spent settling their claims, saying that it would take weeks for civil servants to collate the figure.
The department is claiming that it is unable to disclose the sums paid at a time when the UK parliament is about to debate a deeply controversial law which would introduce a partial amnesty for the country’s service personnel who have committed serious crimes – including murder and torture – while serving outside the country.
Known as the Overseas Operation Bill, the proposed new law has alarmed human rights groups, the UK government’s political opponents and many ex-soldiers, who fear that it will effectively sanction war crimes by British forces.
Even the country’s most senior retired soldier, 81-year-old Field Marshal Charles Guthrie, wrote to the Sunday Times newspaper to warn that the proposed new law would provide room for “de facto decriminalisation of torture”.
Guthrie added that the measures “appear to have been dreamt up by those who have seen too little of the world to understand why the rules of war matter”.
Frank Ledwidge, a former army intelligence officer and military historian, warns that the bill – which he calls a “squalid piece of legislation” – could cause more problems than it solves for the MoD and British government ministers.
Ledwidge, who has experience of tracking down war criminals in Bosnia and Kosovo, points out that the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is currently conducting a preliminary investigation into allegations of British war crimes in Iraq, is unlikely to target the interrogators.
“When the ICC does come for us, which it will if this bill is enacted, it won’t be the soldiers they’ll be after,” Ledwidge says. “The men we hunted down in Bosnia were not the trigger-pullers. They were the commanders, the generals and the politicians who sent them and allowed these crimes to happen.”
There are a whole bunch of people who should be in the dock at The Hague for crimes against humanity during the Iraq invasion, and the important ones are the, “Commanders, the generals and the politicians who sent them and allowed these crimes to happen.”