Judge lifts gag on army's abuse of Iraqi prisoners

In a welcome and robust display of judicial support for the rule of law and open justice, Lord Justice Moses has set aside the gag the Ministry of Defence sought to impose on the legal process and those reporting it by suppressing the names of soldiers who were on trial for abusing Iraqis. Sitting in the High Court, he sent a clear message to Defence Secretary Des Browne that there was no place for politics in his courtroom and that the Ministry of Defence was not above the law. He went on to describe the handling of the case as 'barmy' and was heavily critical of the blanket ban that was being sought over information on the abuse and torture of Iraqi civilians dating back to 2004. The judge said there was no evidence to support the suggestion that those being investigated would be endangered by having their names publicised.

The case is the latest in a string of unwelcome exposures of the reality of the conflict in Iraq that implicates military personnel for breaching human rights laws and the Geneva Convention by abusing and torturing suspects and prisoners. The disturbing spectre of torture first made its way into the headlines in 2004 when photographs emerged showing American army personnel humiliating and abusing their Iraqi captives [details HERE and HERE]. This has subsequently resulted in prosecutions. Amid finger pointing at the Americans, it was discovered that certain elements within the British army had behaved in the same manner.

This was first exposed by the Daily Mirror, then under the editorship of Piers Morgan. He decided to publish the 'Iraqi torture pictures' as they became known amid huge controversy that ultimately led to his untimely departure from the paper. While huge military and political pressure was brought to bear on the Mirror's exposee, ultimately denouncing the pictures as fakes, (through the provision of some quite amazing forensic evidence about the provenance of an army truck that was supposedly in one of the pictures)the fact was that the Mirror's exposure lead to the uncovering of a dossier at the Ministry of Defence that raised the issue of prisoner abuse - aside from the pictures the story they exposed was true and deserved to be told.

While Morgan lost his job, a year later a series of very real torture pictures turned up that proved more difficult to suppress and led to a court martial [more HERE].

One of the reasons that politicians were able to launch a campaign against the Mirror and Morgan's decision to publish torture pictures was that they claimed it would endanger soldiers in Iraq and inflame conflict - it was these same politicians who chose to wage war and cause the underlying conflict in the first place and sending soldiers to war carries far greater risk than running a story on the front page. Several years on and it is a sad indictment on our political process that it still seeks to whitewash over the consequences of its actions. From prisoner abuse to the detention of terror suspects and bugging of MPs, the state cannot operate above the laws it enacts to regulate and protect us against the evils in society. If the state seeks to act outside of these laws then it cannot expect its actions to be respected as just and it would be wrong for the courts to fail in their duty to uphold the law by turning a selective blind eye to the actions of the state. Protecting national security is in everyone's interests but seeking to abuse process in the name of national security will not cover up or tackle the abuses perpetrated by those seeking to harm or protect us.

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