Britain yields to demands for Iraq war crimes probe

The British Ministry of Defence conceded there were grounds for an inquiry into the deaths of up to 20 Iraqis whose relatives say they were tortured and killed by British troops in 2004.

In a submission to the High Court delivered by government lawyers, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said he “profoundly regretted” a failure to make documents in the case available to the court and conceded a public inquiry should be held.

Clive Lewis, a lawyer for the government, said Ainsworth was proposing “an investigation of the murder of Iraqi detainees at Camp Abu Naji in southern Iraq on the night of May 14-15, 2004, and specific allegations by five Iraq nationals of ill-treatment.”

The ministry confirmed the proposal for an independent inquiry and said the court would now decide.

“We’ve submitted to court a view on what should happen next and it is now up to the judges to determine what the next step is,” a spokeswoman said.

Lawyers for the Iraqis say around two dozen men were detained by British troops following a gun battle in southern Iraq on May 14, 2004, in which British soldiers were killed.

The lawyers say the detainees were taken to Abu Naji, a British military camp, where they beaten and tortured before up to 20 of them were killed. Five were released and are among those calling for the inquiry, saying they were mistreated.

The Ministry of Defence denies any wrongdoing, saying any Iraqis that were killed that day died during the gunfight.

The government’s announcement that it would accept an inquiry followed a 20-day hearing in the High Court. The judge was critical of the Ministry of Defence for not giving up ground sooner and for trying to keep evidence out of the public domain by

requesting a public interest immunity certificate, which limits disclosure.

“This is an extremely worrying situation,” Lord Justice Thomas Scott Baker told the court. “To be furnished with a false, or partly false, certificate, as this one was, completely undermines the process, and is a matter of very great concern.”

It is not yet clear when an inquiry will be launched.

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