DS Commentary on IHAT

DS welcomes and supports the House of Commons Defence Committee’s 10th February 2017 Report and recommendations on the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT). DS also welcomes the MOD’s 11th February 2017 announcement that IHAT will be closed, however, DS is disappointed that IHAT closure will not be until summer 2017. MOD’s announcement timing seems to have been more a PR exercise aimed to cynically out-manoeuvre the HoCDC’s report, rather than a genuine result of analysis, progress and learning.

DS is seriously concerned that the MOD announcement, in reality, doesn’t change anything, apart from the semantics in the removal of the IHAT name only. The RN Police (Provost Marshal (Navy) already provides the military police personnel and investigators within IHAT. Thus, in reality there will be no change to the way the few remaining Iraq allegation investigations will be staffed and processed. The employment of Red Snapper contractors should be reviewed and reduced where appropriate. Furthermore, MOD should clarify whether, as stated in the HoCDC evidence notes, the Army’s Royal Military Police (RMP) did retain (on Army request), and/or still retains, some of the original IHAT allegation cases against Army personnel. If the RMP did retain some cases, we should be informed why these cases were retained, and what has happened to them.

To claim it is only now that Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) has been wound up and Mr Shiner disbarred that IHAT can be disbanded, and MOD should be given the credit, appears astonishing. Whilst MOD should be congratulated on challenging PIL, it should have taken this action against vexatious allegations and linked law firms years ago when it was obvious most of the allegations were without foundation. Earlier action by the MOD to shut down PIL et al, and undertaking investigations more robustly and competently, would have saved hundreds of Service personnel from being subjected to miserable life-changing experiences, enormous stress, and both the personnel and the MOD would have saved much money. Instead, the MOD’s Duty of Care to those it ordered to deploy and put their lives at risk for the nation was totally neglected.

DS welcomes the announcement concerning 90% of the 675 Operation Northmoor Afghanistan allegations being dropped by a separate MOD investigation team based at RAF St Mawgan. However, DS has concerns that this team is again RMP led just as the initial IHAT was, and which had to be replaced by the RN Police due to legal challenge. Thus, MOD seems destined to repeat its mistakes in replicating the initial IHAT system that may be similarly challenged in court. DS believes both IHAT and Operation Northmoor activity need to immediately cease and be handed to a properly independent and truly impartial non-military run/dominated, competent operations abuse experienced investigation team.

DS recommends that no serving or ex Service personnel should be investigated or has any case assessment/decision involvement from military police personnel from their own Service. An appropriate impartial investigation team should swiftly vet all allegations and vexatious or obvious non-allegations of war crimes and abuse discarded and passed for civil action if appropriate. Those being interviewed as witnesses or accused should always be given prior notice, and be offered the opportunity of legal advice (at MOD cost), before any interview.

The government should instigate an immediate blanket derogation and/or withdrawal from ECHR and other non-applicable laws for all future military operations and Public Emergency scenarios as a default. It should be promulgated in Campaign Plans, Legal orders, Operational Orders, Rules of Engagement (ROE), general briefings to personnel, general military training and operational Aide Memoires that the Geneva Convention, Hague Conventions and supporting laws are be the context and focus of future post combat/post operations allegation investigations.

DS fully acknowledges the need for genuine and evidence supportable allegations of war crimes or serious abuse or mistreatment to be impartially and robustly investigated. Individuals, commanders and the MOD chain of Command including the Secretary of State, Cabinet and the Prime Minster must be held to account where tested evidence of wrong doing is provided whenever UK Armed Forces are committed both nationally and internationally.

Looking forward, it seems litigation for any mistreatment across the abuse spectrum is with us as part of an evolving global compensation culture. Legislation warfare is also now an emerging concept of future hybrid operations as part of an enemy’s propaganda and recruiting, Force moral, and public/political support undermining strategy of an enemy. The tactics used being to taint those deploying against them, and taint the legitimacy, international support and credibility of our Armed Forces on operations. Thus, to ensure future operational abuse/war crimes allegations can be rapidly investigated and dismissed, but genuine cases identified and prosecuted, DS believes the MOD needs to rapidly learn lessons from IHAT and Op Northmoor. MOD must consider the merits of the current ad hoc thrown together investigation team, approach to dealing with abuse allegations, or consider a different approach that provides a more enduring Capability and robust approach to investigating abuse allegations against our Armed Forces.

What cannot continue, is not required, is unhelpful, and inefficient and demoralising is a culturally ingrained attitude that any and all allegations, however weak, spurious or frivolous, against our Armed Forces’ personnel must be investigated at enormous cost, resource and negative consequence. This is unjust, casts doubt on the public support for the Armed Forces and affects morale in the Armed Forces at a time when they are under immense pressure to carry out their tasking