Payouts over the abuse and detention of Iraqi nationals by the British military adding up to more than £22 million (US$27.5 million) are now under fire after details were obtained by the press.
The Daily Mail, which saw documents relating to previous payouts, says that many of the cases were settled because of European human rights law.
In many cases in which locals were imprisoned by UK troops during the occupation of Iraq it was found “the UK had no right to detain them and that their human rights had therefore been breached.”
Most settlements are understood to have been reached in relation to detentions of more than 96 hours from 2004 onwards – a UK practice which the European Court of Human Rights considered illegal in Iraq.
Former army officer-turned-Tory MP Johnny Mercer has been one of the most outspoken critics of prosecutions of troops by law firms like the now-dissolved Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and investigative bodies like the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT).
“The idea you can go on operations and not detain anyone who is endangering your safety means you risk the lives of your own people,” Mercer told the Daily Mail Sunday.
“What these payments show is how we have switched from innocent until proven guilty to if you are in the military you are guilty until proven innocent. The MoD [Ministry of Defence] just pay out.”
However, one former top army lawyer claimed earlier in 2016 that the rhetoric around the Iraq abuse cases was missing basic facts.
Writing for the Guardian in October, former army Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer warned that key points were being missed.
He said the idea that most cases were “spurious” ignored the fact that the MoD had accepted liability – in effect, admitted – abuse by paying out in 326 cases.
Mercer also pointed out that many allegations had been registered by other military personnel, who had no financial interest but wanted to see justice done as a matter of duty.
He said that “three colonels in the divisional headquarters complained about mistreatment of prisoners within the first four weeks [of occupation].”
Mercer said that the enduring legacy of Iraq was litigation.
“Modern armies now have to comply with international humanitarian law and are rightly held to account if they don’t.”
He said that many serving and former soldiers wanted to see that the military kept to the highest standard of conduct.
“This should be the aspiration of all of us,” Mercer said.