Iraqis to seek torture inquiry in Britain

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More than 100 Iraqis who claim they were tortured and abused by British forces after the invasion of Iraq won a key legal battle in London on Friday in their bid to force a public inquiry.

Lawyers for the Iraqis said they had "incontrovertible" evidence the detainees were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by British soldiers that included hooding, electric shocks and sexual abuse.

Judges Christopher May and Debra Silber ruled the 102 Iraqis should be allowed to bring a High Court action to try to force an inquiry into their allegations against the Ministry of Defence.

"The claimant's case is sufficiently persuasive for permission purposes," the judges said at London's High Court.

"It sufficiently makes the case that the alleged ill-treatment may be seen as systemic and raises questions of its authorisation, or failure to stop it."

The former detainees claim they suffered ill-treatment while they were held for interrogation at one or more of 14 British military detention centres in southeast Iraq between April 2003 and December 2008.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox had previously refused to order a full public inquiry into the allegations.

Michael Fordham, the lawyer for the Iraqis, told the court Fox "has a duty to conduct an independent and effective investigation capable of bringing the full facts to light so that lessons can be learned for the future."

He said a public inquiry was needed to properly investigate claims that torture and abuse were sanctioned by superior officers and became "systematic" within British forces during the five or more years following the invasion.

But James Eadie, the lawyer representing the Defence Secretary, said the British government were already setting up a team of investigators, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, to look into the claims.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said it treated allegations of wrongdoing in Iraq "extremely seriously".

"We accept the view of the court that the issues merit a full hearing, but continue to believe that the Iraq Historic Allegations Team is a more effective means of investigating the allegations of abuse than a public inquiry."

© 2010 AFP

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