A number of investigators working for the controversial Iraqi Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) have been fired for offences ranging from falling asleep on duty to impersonating a police officer in order to gain access to an army facility, it has emerged.
Commander Jack Hawkins, IHAT’s deputy head, told MPs that he had had to fire several civilian contractors working on the probe that was set up in 2010 to investigate 3,300 allegations of murder, abuse, and torture of Iraqi civilians between 2003 and 2009.
“Mistakes happen. This is a huge series of investigations,” he told a parliamentary committee that is looking into the work of IHAT, which employs around 147 staff members, 127 of whom are civilian contractors.
“He tried to gain entry into an Army establishment, he was picked up by the guards at the time,” he said in describing one former employee.
“That is a criminal offence, to impersonate a police officer, so if anyone does that we would deal with it appropriately.”
Another was dismissed for falling asleep.
“It was straightforward. He was asleep on a chair when I walked in the office; I wasn’t comfortable with that, so he went the next day,” Hawkins said.
“Another person wasn’t wholly accurate on a CV. I wasn’t comfortable with that, so she went very soon afterwards,” he added.
Hawkins defended his organization, as well as IHAT Director Mark Warwick, before a group of Defence Committee MPs. IHAT has drawn criticism from military personnel and MPs amid concern that it was using dubious evidence to hound soldiers and former soldiers.
I asked questions of the two men in charge of the Iraq Historical Allegations Team in the House of Commons y’day. Answers hard to come by. pic.twitter.com/31riEhdJEY
— Johnny Mercer MP (@JohnnyMercerMP) November 16, 2016
Figures released in October revealed that the organization has dismissed or closed more than half of the 3,300 allegations. Of the 176 investigations completed or near completion, just four have led to further action, while there has been just a single successful prosecution. IHAT’s reputation has been marred by reports of “ambulance chasing,” with law firms cashing in on spurious claims against soldiers.
Warwick told MPs that the majority of the allegations (2,470) the organization has considered had been brought forward by the widely-criticized Public Interest Lawyers firm, which shuttered its doors in August.
Earlier this month, war veterans claiming to have been hounded by IHAT investigators over allegations of abuse launched a legal challenge against the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The former troops accuse the MoD of failing to provide proper training on how to handle Iraqi captives, leaving soldiers “hung out to dry” over alleged abuses. A law firm representing some 200 veterans and troops is calling on the MoD to provide welfare, medical support, and legal advice to those under investigation.