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UK court allows suit seeking to force Iraq torture inquiry

A UK High Court of Justice on Friday allowed a lawsuit to proceed that seeks to force the UK government to hold a public inquiry into torture allegations [JURIST news archive] made following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The suit was brought by 102 Iraqi men who claim they were subjected torture, including hooding, electrical shocks and sexual abuse, while being held in 14 UK military detention centers in Iraq from 2003 through 2008. The court held that there was sufficient evidence presented [Guardian report] by the men to argue that their treatment had been systemic, raising questions of government authorization or complicity. The men contend that Defense Secretary Liam Fox had a duty to conduct an independent investigation [AFP report] into the torture allegations. Fox opted not to conduct such an inquiry, instead establishing the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which will consist of military police and civilian investigators under civilian leadership. The government argued that the suit should be suspended because of IHAT's establishment, which it said would provide a more effective means of investigating the torture allegations than a public inquiry. The court held that it could be argued that IHAT would not be effective [UKPA report] in investigating allegations of systemic torture. The case will now move to a full hearing.

Last week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron [official website] announced that he will create a panel [JURIST report] to investigate claims that British government agents were complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects held overseas. The inquiry comes after 12 ex-detainees brought civil cases against the government, claiming that British agents took part in their mistreatment while they were held in prisons in foreign countries, including Pakistan and Morocco. The UK will ask the ex-detainees to drop their lawsuits [AP report] in exchange for possible compensation and a promise that the inquiry will fully investigate their claims. Cameron said that he hopes to start the investigation by the end of the year, once a separate investigation [JURIST report] into the actions of MI5 and MI6 agents at Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] concludes, and to have a full report back within the next 12 months. It has yet to be determined whether parts of the investigation will be held publicly. The UK government indicated last month that it will issue a new set of regulations regarding the use of information obtained via torture [JURIST report]. Claims of complicity in torture were made against the government in a report [materials] released last week by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. According to HRW, intelligence services in France, Germany and the UK lack proper oversight of intelligence information that is received from countries that torture.

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