British soldiers recently cleared of accusations including torture, murder and mutilation of Iraqi detainees say they were “betrayed” by the government for having to endure “five years of hell.”
The Al-Sweady Inquiry ruled on Wednesday the troops were guilty of mistreating nine Iraqi detainees in contravention of the Geneva Convention, but that allegations of torture, murder and mutilation were “shocking and completely baseless.”
Brian Wood, who won the Military Cross for his bravery during the Battle of Danny Boy, told the Sun the Prince of Wales regiment had been put through five years of “hell.”
The former corporal was involved in the battle in May 2004.
“We have been dragged through five years of hell. That in my view is a betrayal of our service,” he said. “We did what we had to do as soldiers and we did the right thing. Our families had to put up with these lies.”
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon condemned the legal firms who pressed the charges, which emerged yesterday to have stemmed from “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility,” saying their actions were a “shameful attempt to use our legal system to attack and impugn our armed forces.”
The legal firm Public Interest Lawyers, which represented some of the Iraqi claimants, has been criticized by former Labour’s shadow defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, who said the UK’s legal system had been “systematically abused.”
Public Interest Lawyers, run by Phil Shiner, received £3 million of taxpayers’ money for the Al-Sweady inquiry.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Fallon called for an “unequivocal apology” from the lawyers pressing the false allegations for having failed to present integral evidence and “wasting” a total of £31 million of taxpayers’ money.
He said an inquiry into the proper conduct of both legal firms involved was now under way and that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would try and recoup some of the money spent on the judicial review.
Initial allegations that British soldiers tortured, mutilated and murdered 20 Iraqi detainees were withdrawn earlier this year after it was discovered that all Iraqi insurgents had been killed in battle, but Fallon said the emotional cost on the soldiers against whom the charges were pressed was high.
Inquiry chairman Sir Thayne Forbes did, however, say that there were “instances of ill-treatment by the British but [they were] relatively minor when compared with the original … allegations.”
The inquiry further said British troops responded with bravery to the insurgent ambush in 2004, saying their conduct showed “exemplary courage, resolution and professionalism.”
Fallon praised the result, saying that Forbes had been presented with “incontrovertible truths.” The allegations of torture and killing of Iraqi detainees by the British Army were found to be “wholly and entirely without merit or justification.”
The inquiry was set up in 2009 after the so-called Battle of Danny Boy was not fully investigated by the MoD, and has to date cost £31 million. Forbes called the attack “a deadly, planned, and coordinated armed ambush of British troops.”
The 20 dead and nine captured insurgents were held by British forces at their Abu Naji camp where the “mistreatment” of detainees occurred.