December 11, 2012 (TSR) – A former investigator into allegations that British troops abused Iraqi prisoners resigned because she did not want to be implicated in “a cover-up”, the high court has heard.
Louise Thomas, 45, left the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) in July because she thought it was not a genuine investigation but a “face-saving inquiry”, she told the court on Tuesday.
Her evidence came at a preliminary hearing in advance of a judicial review, expected next month, into the government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis between 2003 and 2008.
Lawyers say they have now received complaints of abuse from more than 1,100 Iraqis and that IHAT’s investigations are insufficiently independent because they have been conducted by Royal Military Police (RMP) officers and other members of the armed forces.
Thomas, whose claims were highlighted by the Guardian in October, is a former police constable who worked for six months with IHAT at its British headquarters in Pewsey, Wiltshire.
She admitted in court she did have second thoughts at one stage and asked for her job back.
“After speaking to a few colleagues and realising we could make a difference I asked if I could stay,” she said. “[They] said they would try to change things. It was very frustrating working at IHAT.”
Thomas denied she was angry when she was refused permission to withdraw her resignation.
Her job at IHAT had been to review evidence taken from video sessions of recordings of interrogations of Iraqi suspects. One of the exercises was to see how they matched up to standards set by the Istanbul Protocols, which assess methods of torture.
Thomas alleged that many of the sessions had been misrecorded by earlier forensic investigators.
But Philip Havers QC, for the Ministry of Defence, accused her of exaggerating the number of misrecordings and said that notebooks showed only seven such alleged occurrences out of 181 videos she had assessed – a rate of 4%.
Thomas denied she was exaggerating and said other records would show there were more occasions.
If the high court agrees in January that there should be a full inquiry into the latest allegations of military abuse during the occupation of Iraq, it will be the third such investigation following the Baha Mousa and al-Sweady inquiries.
Asked by Havers whether she was still saying that “IHAT is not a genuine investigation but merely a face-saving inquiry”, Thomas replied: “Yes, I am.”
She said she believed IHAT was a “cover-up” and that she had resigned because she no longer wanted to be implicated in it.
The court was told that the hearing would not identify any of the soldiers who worked for the Joint Forces Interrogation Team (Jfit) in Iraq, any of the military operations involved or any of the Iraqi detainees.
“The reasons for the redactions is so as not to prejudice the ongoing (IHAT) criminal investigations,” Havers said.
John Birch, a former RMP officer who has been working with IHAT, said there were seven main strands of investigations being pursued, including a “murder review team” that was looking at Iraqi deaths.
He acknowledged that tapes from the early years of the occupation before 2005 were still missing. A shortage of digital video tapes meant that some of the later sessions had been recorded over.
He added: “There’s been a comprehensive approach trying to take in all the material.”
After the hearing, Phil Shiner, the solicitor from Public Interest Lawyers who represents many of the Iraqi claimants, said: “There are lots of examples where criminal inquiries run alongside public inquiries.
“We want to strip the military out of (IHAT). We think the RMP have incorrectly graded the [seriousness of the behaviour revealed in the interrogation] videos.
“If we win, the secretary of state will have no other option but to order a third public inquiry into what happened in Iraq.”