BRITAIN and the United States are under growing pressure to investigate allegations that their forces had a role in the torture and killing of thousands of Iraqis.
British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said that new details published by the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks, including evidence of 15,000 more civilian deaths than initially reported, were distressing.
Asked if British troops’ role should be investigated, Mr Clegg told the BBC: “Anything that suggests that basic rules of war and conflict and of engagement have been broken, or that torture has in any way been condoned, are extremely serious and need to be looked at.”
WikiLeaks released 391,831 files on the Iraq war, from the start of 2004 until the end of 2009. They showed that the US-led military knew that Iraqi police, soldiers and national guards, that they were training and equipping, were torturing detainees and in some cases beating them to death. The documents describe scenes of torture by Iraqi forces of Iraqi detainees, involving acid, drills, hosepipes, lit cigarettes, and rape.
The war logs also reveal that more than 680 civilians were killed at US checkpoints, including women and children – the first time that the toll has been given. The US occasionally issued press statements if asked about such killings, but the files show how often they happened and paint a pitiful picture of the victims, including children cowering on the floor of a car.
Lawyers said the files were insufficient evidence of wrongdoing in themselves but as records of events were a starting point for investigation. Julian Assange, editor of WikiLeaks, said that senior officers, including General David Petraeus, should be questioned.
Human Rights Watch urged the US Government to examine whether its forces broke international law by transferring thousands of Iraqi detainees from US to Iraqi custody despite the clear risk of torture.
“These new disclosures show torture at the hands of Iraqi security forces is rampant and goes completely unpunished,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s clear that US authorities knew of systematic abuse by Iraqi troops but they handed thousands of detainees over anyway.”
Manfred Nowak, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, said the US had a duty to investigate whether its officials were involved in or complicit in torture. Amnesty International said that the logs fuelled concern that US authorities “committed a serious breach of international law” in handing over the detainees.
US Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the document release “opens up old wounds.”
“If there is information about criminal activity, follow it up. If there is a systemic problems, follow it up,” he said on Fox television. “But let’s not create controversy where there isn’t any. There are enough problems in Iraq without going back over that ground.”
Under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which the US ratified in 1994, an occupying state is required to ensure that it is not handing over detainees to an authority it suspects could subject them to torture.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, condemned the leak, which follows one on Afghanistan. “Another irresponsible posting of stolen classified documents by WikiLeaks puts lives at risk and gives adversaries valuable information,” he posted on Twitter.