War crimes in Iraq: London in tune with the ICC

10 October 2005 by Adele Waugaman

Most people hear the words "war crime" and think of the Nuremberg Trials or Slobodan Milosevic's trial, but that may soon change. Up till now, British soldiers have never been charged under this highly symbolic label. However, in July the British Attorney-General reversed this trend by announcing that three soldiers were being charged with "war crimes under the ICC Act [of] 2001". That announcement made Britain the first member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to charge its own citizens under such law.

The trial - expected to begin in April 2006 - will be based on charges of "inhuman treatment" related to events, including the death of a detainee, Baha Musa, that are alleged to have taken place in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in September 2003. "Inhuman treatment" is considered a war crime - punishable by life in prison - under the British law on the ICC, which takes its definition from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC in July 2002. Even though the soldiers are not facing heavier sentences than before, the symbolic nature of that charge has stirred up a maelstrom among military officers, who are protesting what they see as an attempt to be "politically correct" that risks scarring army morale.

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