Decades of cover ups in British foreign interventions have come to light, after recent revelations that the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) had sought to hide Britain’s war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United Kingdom once again seeks to protect its foreign policy reputation and hide its abuses, even if justice and their impact on civilian lives are ignored.

Britain joined the United States-led wars against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, and to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Both were waged in the name of counter-terrorism and freedom for the countries’ civilians. Yet, new information indicates that the human rights of civilians were seriously violated by those tasked with protecting them.

Reporters from a BBC Panorama and Sunday Times investigation interviewed detectives, who found that British soldiers were guilty of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the MoD had covered up.

The research came from former detectives from the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), which investigated alleged war crimes committed during the occupation of Iraq, and Operation Northmoor, during Britain’s invasion in Afghanistan. Though the British government closed these investigations in 2017, workers within the organization revealed deliberate killing and abuses of civilians.

In one of the cases documented, Afghan witnesses described how UK special forces shot three teenagers and a twenty-year-old in a family home in the Loy Bagh village.

“When I entered the room, I saw bones and teeth all over the place. The four of them were lying there, blood everywhere,” said Sultan Mohammad, the older brother of two of the victims, who was first on the scene after British soldiers had left.

“When I entered the room, I saw bones and teeth all over the place. The four of them were lying there, blood everywhere,” said Sultan Mohammad, the older brother of two of the victims, who was first on the scene after British soldiers had left.

His mother Sabbah said: “The cups were full of blood. They had shot the boys in the head.”

Such raids were designed to target the Taliban, yet due to Britain’s vague counter-terrorism policies, civilians were often the victims.

Despite the investigation, the Ministry of Defence had said it would not investigate the charges, and no prosecutions against soldiers would be made so as to protect the British military’s reputation.

A former IHAT detective said the victims of war crimes had been badly let down: “I use the word disgusting. And I feel for the families because . . . they’re not getting justice. How can you hold your head up as a British person?”

However, several past reports also highlight Britain’s abuses against civilians in its foreign interventions. Indeed, this recent revelation barely scratches the surface of British troops’ malign actions against civilians.

An International Criminal Court (ICC) report from 2017 indicates that there is reason to believe that Britain was responsible for war crimes in Iraq.

An International Criminal Court (ICC) report from 2017 indicates that there is reason to believe that Britain was responsible for war crimes in Iraq.

“The [prosecutor’s] office has reached the conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court against persons in their custody,” Fatou Bensouda, ICC chief prosecutor said.

Eventually, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) was found to have breached the Geneva Conventions as well as the 1998 Human Rights Act in its detention of civilians in prisons during the 2003 invasion, in an ICC case in December that year.

British troops had mistreated Iraqi civilians, including hooding them and taking turns to run over their backs, according to four detainees, Justice George Leggatt concluded in the case.

“None of the claimants was engaged in terrorist activity or posed any threat to the security of Iraq,” said Mr. Leggatt.

Though UK ministers have presented these actions as isolated incidents, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in July followed up on a previous case made to the ICC, investigating British war crimes in Iraq from 2003 to 2008. The ECCHR highlighted that hundreds of Iraqis, detained in the war, spoke of abuses at the hands of UK troops. These included violent beatings, sleep and sensory deprivation, stress positions, deprivation of food and water, sexual and religious humiliation, and in some cases sexual abuse.

Yet despite these accusations, there was no genuine accountability or procedures to provide justice for the victims.

The British Army’s rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan actually permitted shooting civilians, reported the Middle East Eye. Two former soldiers serving in southern Iraq said they received permission to shoot anyone seen holding a mobile telephone, carrying a shovel, or acting in any way suspiciously. While targeting covert militia activity was the justification, such actions could have been used arbitrarily.

A former Royal Marine said that one of his officers confessed to his men that he had been responsible for the fatal shooting of an Afghan boy, aged around eight, according to the MEE investigation.

Along with other incidents, many of which are likely not even yet known, Britain has claimed to operate behind the cover of a progressive foreign policy. Former UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in 1997 delivered his famous speech on ethical foreign policy, calling for “respect of other nations,” and “keeping peace in the world.”

“Our foreign policy must have an ethical dimension and must support the demands of other peoples for the democratic rights on which we insist for ourselves,” echoing London’s continuous narratives on foreign affairs issues.

Britain, however, has traditionally operated in complete secrecy where its foreign policy has had obvious devastating impacts on civilians, while seeking to block any news of it emerging.

In January 1972, the Observer released an article entitled “UK fighting secret Gulf war?”, while the Sunday Times on the same day published “Is Dhofar Britain’s Hush-Hush War?” These damning headlines referred to Britain’s role in suppressing Oman’s Dhofar Rebellion, in support of the previous British-backed Sultan Said bin Taimur.

The Royal Air Force had burned villages, and targeted agricultural centers and food supplies. Britain simultaneously launched a complete media blackout, blocking journalists and media commentators from entering the country.

Not only had Britain propped up the old Sultan bin Taimur, whose country suffered from utter poverty, illiteracy, and endemic diseases, the Royal Air Force had burned villages and targeted agricultural centers and food supplies. Britain simultaneously launched a complete media blackout, blocking journalists and media commentators from entering the country. Historian Ian Cobain notes in his book ‘The History Thieves’ that Britain’s hiding of its hand in Oman repression was vital in preserving its waning Middle East credibility at the time.

Britain meanwhile faced a rebellion against its Aden colony from 1962 until 1967 – then its most vital colonial outpost in the Middle East. A 1966 Amnesty International report documents Britain’s use of heinous torture methods against opposition figures, while targeting food supplies in insurgents’ areas. Hurting civilians in southern Yemen was acceptable, as long as Britain retained its colonial presence. Yet Britain had blocked any investigations into alleged human rights abuses to prevent knowledge of its repressive policies in Aden.

With its Middle East presence having resurged after joining the US-led interventions, more abuses have followed. Desperate to justify its continued global presence, Britain has sought to hide any links to human rights violations.

With potentially another ICC investigation into British abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is hope, it may finally provide some justice for the victims. Although, as past trends have shown, Britain may still fail to address its role in harming civilians during its foreign interventions.

It should be clear, however, that only by Britain coming to terms with its actions, past and present, and delivering justice to the victims and perpetrators of its foreign policy actions, can it begin to pursue a real progressive and humane foreign policy.