ICC reopens probe into UK Iraq detainee abuse

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, announced May 13 that she will reopen a preliminary investigation into alleged mistreatment and killings of Iraqi detainees in Iraq by UK military forces from 2003 through 2008. Bensouda stated that her office received new information in January from two human rights organizations implicating UK officials in detainee abuse. The Rome Statute (PDF) of the ICC allows the prosecutor to "initiate investigations … on the basis of information on crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court." Although Iraq is not a State Party to the ICC, the ICC does have jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed by state nationals in Iraq. To comply with the statute, the ICC must examine several factors during the preliminary investigation, such as "jurisdiction, admissibility and the interests of justice" to determine if such issues meet the Statute's criteria for opening a full investigation. The ICC's original preliminary investigation into this matter, which ended in 2006, did not meet the "required gravity threshold" of the statute. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the ICC in 2006, emphasized that if new information were to surface, the statute affords the ICC the ability to reopen the investigation. The new information received by the ICC in January alleges additional cases and details of detainee mistreatment than were available in the original investigation.

British military forces serving in Iraq evaded prosecution in the original preliminary investigation when, despite fresh allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by British troops, the then-attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, announced that the ICC would not force a trial on the matter. The new allegations stemmed from video images published in a February 2006 British tabloid showing British soldiers beating four Iraqi men they detained after a street disturbance in Iraq in 2004. When the video surfaced, several British soldiers were already being tried for alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees. In November 2005, charges against seven British soldiers in connection with the murder of an Iraqi civilian were dropped. In December 2005, a British court ruled that British soldiers in Iraq are forbidden to subject Iraqi prisoners to cruel or degrading treatment while in their custody.

From Jurist, May 14. Used with permission.

The UK has also faced an ICC investigation over the use of cluster bombs in Iraq.