Britain faces international war crimes trial

Reckoning: The International Criminal Court says it takes the findings “very seriously”. © Getty

Is Britain’s army a force for good or evil in the world? A year-long probe has uncovered evidence that the British Government covered up atrocities by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For many decades, the British military has maintained an enviable reputation, upholding law and order around the globe.

But, following dramatic revelations in The Sunday Times this weekend, that reputation may soon lie in tatters.

A year-long investigation by the paper and the BBC’s Panorama found that two inquiries into “chilling” allegations of war crimes by British troops were closed down by former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon in 2017, before they reached trial. It is alleged that British soldiers beat, tortured and killed detainees at a British base in Basra, Iraq, in 2003.

Now that the evidence is coming to light, Britain could be tried in the International Criminal Court. It would be the first time the body has taken action against any UK nationals for war crimes.

But it would not be Britain’s first war crime: the country’s history is littered with them.

There are the concentration camps of the Boer war, in which over 40,000 South Africans died. There is also its use of chemical weapons, including chlorine and mustard gas, in World War One, and the massacre of villagers in Malaya in 1948.

Is the British army a force for good or evil in the world?

Poisoned legacy?

English journalist Robert Fisk is frank about the evil committed by Britain, despite efforts to disguise it. “When is a war crime not a war crime? When it’s committed by us, of course,” he writes. “We have grown used to this. From the sky, from the street, in the desert, we kill and absolve ourselves.”

But war is brutal, and rogue soldiers can tarnish the reputation of the majority. Britain’s role in upholding international law and protected people around the world should not be sneered at. “For its role in building that peace and prosperity […], this nation can be justifiably proud,” writes The Telegraph.

You Decide

  1. Is war always a crime?

Activities

  1. Make a timeline of the Iraq war, including at least seven major events.

Some People Say...

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), American writer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
An investigation by the BBC’s Panorama and The Sunday Times has turned up evidence that the British state covered up war crimes by British soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the murder of three children who were shot at point blank range.
What do we not know?
Whether the UK Government could be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC’s Office of Prosecutor said it would “independently assess” the findings.

Word Watch

Enviable
Something that others can envy.
Two inquiries
Operation Northmoor for Afghanistan and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.
Detainees
A public inquiry led to the only conviction of a British soldier for war crimes in Iraq.
International Criminal Court
Based in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Boer war
1899-1902.
Malaya
Known as the the Batang Kali massacre, it took place in modern-day Malaysia.
Absolve
To be free from guilt; cleansed.

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