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Donal MacIntyre on Radio 5 Live: Military Police whistleblower claims hundreds of cases of abuse against Iraqi civilians have been covered up

In an extraordinary interview with Donal MacIntytre for BBC Radio 5 Live on Sunday 11 October, a former Royal Military Police (RMP) investigator claims there are hundreds of cases of abuse by British soldiers, involving death and serious injury, of Iraqi civilians which have never been dealt with or have been covered up.

He claims the interests of the military are taking precedence over the interests of justice and that the Royal Military Police are out of their depth in Iraq.

Describing the allegations of abuse the former RMP investigator says: "I've seen documentary evidence that there were incidents running into the hundreds involving death and serious injury to Iraqis where the chain of command of the army had decided that the circumstances did not warrant a Royal Military Police investigation... and it's of great concern that amongst those there will have been undoubtedly some very suspicious deaths and serious injuries that were never properly investigated."

He also says: "the interests of justice [are] being pushed to one side in order to serve the interests of the chain of command of the Royal Military Police and the wider army."

He adds the military chain of command make it difficult for the RMP to operate independently by not providing resources or denying access to prevent investigations; claiming investigators who don't toe the party line would be overlooked for promotion and receive an "adverse report".

Talking about the Baha Mousa case, an Iraqi civilian whose death in British custody is currently the subject of a public enquiry, he says: "[it] was a murder investigation on a plate... and amazingly this investigation was closed down or put in the waiting tray for a whole year."

He says: "the whole system of military justice is flawed... and there is a very high risk that there are other Baha Mousa's out there because of the number of incidents that were not investigated... at all by the Royal Military Police, let alone an ineffective investigation."

When asked about his reasons for speaking out about alleged malpractice and why he left the Military Police, he replies: "I feel that I belonged for too long to an organisation that wasn't seeking out the truth... I believe that I was serving in something that was party to covering up quite serious allegations of torture and murder... and other investigations where the consequences could have been quite serious for the suspects, and where there are large numbers of victims, who have not received justice either."

In a statement responding to the allegations, the Ministry of Defence denied that there is evidence of systemic failure or interference within the RMP: "The RMP is subject to regular and exhaustive inspection by national bodies such as the Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary. This provides the assurance that the RMP has the capability, capacity and competence to conduct investigations into serious crime. We must also remember that over a hundred thousand of our personnel served in Iraq and, with the exception of a few individuals, they have performed to the highest standards under extraordinarily testing conditions there."

Hear the full interview and studio discussion on the issues raised on Donal MacIntyre, BBC Radio 5 Live, Sunday 11 October, 7.30pm.

If you use any material from this release please credit Donal MacIntyre, BBC Radio 5 Live.

Notes to Editors

Donal MacIntyre interview transcript – 11 October, 2009

J – "John", former Royal Military Police investigator
D – Donal MacIntyre

J: I became disillusioned with the Royal Military Police, and in particular the Special Investigation Branch, because on too many occasions I saw the interests of justice being pushed to one side in order really to serve the interests of the chain of command, of the Royal Military Police and the wider army.

D: And have you or were you concerned that these crimes weren't being investigated properly because of pressure from above?

J: Yes. The Iraq war really put the international spotlight on the workings of the Royal Military Police and in particular the Special Investigation Branch. And, if you like, it catapulted the Royal Military Police onto the world stage and took them out of a comfort zone where they had previously been investigating quite routine, lower-level type crimes to investigating extremely serious allegations of alleged torture and murder.

And if you were to look back at all the serious allegations arising out of operations in Iraq, there's a catalogue of blunders, mistakes, ineptitude and the course of investigations being bent to serve the real or perceived interests of the chain of command of the army.

D: Is it your view that the Royal Military Police and the Special Investigations Branch of the Army simply weren't equipped to deal with the pressures of the Iraq war and the investigations that they were involved in?

J: What senior members of the Royal Military Police will always come up with as a defence when they get criticised is that they lack resources and that's the fairly usual standard response. And that's partly right.

But the Royal Military Police is actually structurally flawed from the very outset. They are part of the army. And where that takes you is to a situation where in effect you have soldiers investigating soldiers. You don't have an independent police force.

There is a common misconception that the Royal Military Police are in some way independent of the army and can carry out their investigations independently and impartially when in fact they are very, very closely wrapped in to the chain of command and that structural flaw is why so many things go wrong.

In terms of resources... it was quite clear that enough resources were never put in to Iraq to police that effectively. And that's really a strategic mistake by those in power.

D: Is it within the power of the Royal Military Police to independently instigate an investigation against the orders of senior military staff?

J: This is a very good question. On the less serious incidents the initiation of investigations without the knowledge of the chain of command can happen. When matters are more serious, the Royal Military Police are obliged to tell the chain of command that they are investigating something.

There comes a point when somebody – and it might be somebody at army board level – needs to be told. And that is when the chain of command have an opportunity to either make life difficult for people in the Royal Military Police, ie: by not providing resources, or by not allowing investigators to go to certain places.

For example, if it's a hot operational environment, the chain of command can deny the use of helicopters, they can deny protection for investigators to go to a scene.

D: Simply, they can make life difficult for the investigators even if they don't directly close down an inquiry.

J: Yep, they can make it very difficult. And of course the whole way that annual confidential reports are raised against senior NCOs and officers in the Royal Military Police – and those reports are absolutely crucial to promotion – it's well known that if you don't tow the party line with the chain of command you could end up with an adverse report and you will not get promoted.

D: Are you aware that any of the investigators have been denied promotion unfairly for their determination to investigate this fairly and justly? [edited out specifics]

J: I strongly believe that a number of senior NCOs have suffered as a result of their desire to investigate things properly and there are arguably two or three officers as well whose careers have suffered.

And in such a small core, once that suffering becomes known it has a very sobering effect on the remainder. So there is a great... emphasis on towing the party line.

D: What's driving you to tell this story?

J: Personally I remain troubled... by the fact that a number of incidents were thwarted... where investigations were closed down... where ineptitude is being tolerated and not dealt with.

I feel that I belonged for too long to an organisation that wasn't seeking out the truth... and it conflicted with my own personal values and standards... and I believe that I was serving in something that was party to covering up quite serious allegations of torture and murder...

D: Did you voice your concerns to senior personnel when you were there?

J: I did, amongst many others. But as soon as you raise concerns you are put into this awkward squad and life can very easily be made very difficult for anybody not towing the party line.

J: I've seen documentary evidence that were incidents running into the hundreds involving death and serious injury to Iraqis where the chain of command of the army had decided that the circumstances did not warrant a Royal Military Police investigation.

D: So when senior military commanders say so few incidents have happened, yes there are a few bad apples, but there is no sense that bad behaviour is endemic among the frontline troops, erm, do you have any trust in the figures offered by the generals? [edited]

J: Absolutely no trust and confidence in anyone in the army who is saying that the number of incidents are low.

The documentary evidence that I have seen suggests that there were hundreds of incidents over the last six or seven years and that it's of great concern that amongst those hundreds there will have been undoubtedly some very suspicious deaths and serious injuries that were never properly investigated.

And if you just look at the general picture that the media sets, Afghanistan seems a lot quieter in terms of alleged misconduct by British troops.

That to me is quite concerning because it tells me that the army hasn't suddenly got a lot better... it tells me that the Royal Military Police are very efficiently towing the party line for the army.

Geography is a factor. The Royal Military Police can't go anywhere to investigate unless they are helicoptered in... and if the transport is denied to them then they are never going to get to an incident.

And the evidence is very clear that, when one delves into a number of cases, that investigations into alleged torture and murder have not been effective.

D: It seems from what you are saying and telling us today that we can have no trust and confidence in the reporting or the investigation of serious incidents involving the death of civilians or death of others involving British forces in either the theatre of Afghanistan or Iraq.

J: I would say that it is definitely the case that the public, and indeed our international partners, do not have any trust and confidence in the investigation of incidents involving... alleged... misconduct by British troops.

There are just so many cases that have gone to court that demonstrate that the Royal Military Police have either been incompetent or have connived with the chain of command to usurp the law... that... what it's done has tarnished the reputation of the British army.

D: What evidence do you have that other countries, that other armed forces are very uncomfortable with the way that incidents involving British forces are investigated?

J: As a result of liaison with members of foreign forces, contributing to NATO efforts and Allied efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, I know anecdotally that a number of them believe that the British army has either covered up suspicious incidents involving torture and murder... and there is a perception that, you know, there's an awful lot of smoke... so there must be a fire somewhere.

D: The other forces involved, have they been surprised with how little adverse publicity the British have got, the British troops on the ground have got say compared to the Americans. I know here we always felt that the British troops have behaved better than the Americans, they were less gung-ho, they were less hi-tech but they were more people orientated. And is that your view that the Americans behaved on a much greater scale than the British troops or do you now think that is simply a mistruth?

J: One has to look at the numbers. The American troop levels in Iraq absolutely dwarfed the presence of the British army out there when it was at its height.

And so, statistically, the American army was always going to have more incidents that could be magnified. And some of the roles and responsibilities were different.

The British Army was never so heavily involved in keeping prisoners in a similar way as Abu Ghraib. So I mean the American army have had some high profile court martials... and they seem to have been quite effective and senior officers have been dealt with fairly robustly through the American military justice system.

But in terms of the British army pursuing investigations involving senior army officers... you know, the track record is actually quite disturbing.

D: Cover-ups, unseemly behaviour, undue pressure – the picture you paint of the Royal Military Police and how they operate, and how they are allowed to operate, and how the Royal Military justice system operates, it's a very dark and sorry picture.

J: It is an extremely dark and sorry situation. I think that, you know, that the vast majority of soldiers have served the country well and with distinction.

It is the actions of a few who have been shown to be bad apples... but it is very fair to say that because the system is so structurally flawed and some of the decision making has been so perverse... that it is fair to say that the barrel is probably rotten.

There are still a few good apples in there but there's been a few bad ones and we've got a rotten barrel.

On the death of Baha Mousa

J: Baha Mousa's death was a murder investigation on a plate, if I can be quite cold about it.

You know, you have a death of a person and all the evidence is there. It's hardly a whodunit. It doesn't really get any simpler, a death in custody because all the records of who visits that detention facility and who's responsible, all the forensic capture, it is there in a nice, confined area.

And, amazingly, this investigation was closed down or put in the sort of waiting tray for a whole year.

D: Do you think that, in that particular case, the fact that the people who were frontline soldiers also were custody supervisors, such a dangerous cocktail, that the violence and aggression was rather predictable?

J: Absolutely. It is inherently dangerous to have members of a unit involved in offensive operations also being responsible for the detention of suspects... and it really is best practice that anyone in detention, whether as a prisoner or war or somebody suspected of some criminal offence should be handled, and their custody should be run by someone completely independent and separate from those involved at the front line.

This wasn't the case with Baha Mousa and there is very disturbing evidence given by some of those who were at the detention facility that Baha Mousa and others in detention were receiving visits, at night time, from various people involved in that unit.

And what it says to me is that there is evidence, grounds to suspect reprisal beatings of Baha Mousa.

I think there is a very high risk that there are other Baha Mousas out there because of the number of incidents that were not investigated... at all by the Royal Military Police, let alone an ineffective investigation.

DL

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