Allegations of torture carried out by American and British Soldiers in Iraq

The recent allegations of torture in Iraq at the hands of American and British soldiers, and the widely publicised photographs relating to these allegations, have once again drawn attention to the scourge of torture. These allegations give rise to extremely grave concern.

REDRESS wishes to add its voice to all those who have condemned any abuse of human rights by the occupying forces in Iraq. These abuses are all the more grave considering the large number of Iraqis that have suffered torture under the Ba’ath party regime; these allegations contribute to the further victimisation and traumatisation of Iraqi society as a whole.

However, condemnation is not enough. The American and British Governments have an international obligation to speedily, thoroughly and transparently investigate these matters and to bring to justice any of their soldiers who have committed human rights crimes in Iraq.

We therefore welcome the recent statements from both Governments that these incidents will be thoroughly investigated, and await further clarification on exactly how these investigations will be conducted.

Torture has been completely outlawed under the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which both the USA and the UK are signatories. Torture is illegal in all circumstances, even during emergencies or situations of armed conflict. Torture is a serious criminal offence under both American and British domestic law, and this applies no matter where the torture was committed. 

If the American and British Governments are serious about their commitment to the protection of international human rights, then it is important that soldiers who are accused of torture are tried publicly and in open court. While such soldiers may well have also breached military codes and could therefore be dealt with at the level of military discipline, any punishment less than that which a civilian court would impose would not do justice to the victims.

Open public trials would also send a clear message, not only to the occupying forces in Iraq, but to the wider world, that torture anywhere is unacceptable in all circumstances, no matter who the perpetrator or the victim.

In addition to victims’ rights to justice, torture victims are also entitled to reparations, including compensation for the physical and psychological harm they have suffered and proper rehabilitative care. Equally important is the need for the Governments to take immediate and effective steps to prevent incidents of torture from recurring in Iraq and elsewhere.