UK Soldiers Beat Innocent Men in 'Black Ops' Jails. but under New Secret Justice Law, Their Torture Will Be Hidden for Ever; Soldiers Stripped and Beat Iraqis after Illegal Detention - under Authority of Ministry of Defence Lawyers Who Kept Mission Secret from Army Chiefs
Byline: David Rose
THE Mail on Sunday can today reveal devastating new claims of abuse by British soldiers carried out at a secret network of illegal prisons in the Iraqi desert.
One innocent civilian victim is said to have died after being assaulted aboard an RAF helicopter, while others were hooded, stripped and beaten at a camp set up at a remote phosphate mine deep in the desert.
The whereabouts of a separate group of 64 Iraqi men who were spirited away on two RAF Chinooks to a 'black site' prison, located at an oil pipeline pumping station, remain unknown.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of these alleged abuses, which appear to have been flagrant breaches of international law, is that this secret network is claimed to have been sanctioned by senior Ministry of Defence lawyers.
Yet the top British Army lawyer on the ground in Iraq - who was supposed to be responsible for all aspects of prisoner detention - remained completely unaware of it.
Meanwhile, the Government last week introduced its new secrecy law in Parliament, which, if enacted, would mean details of the emerging scandal would be hidden for ever.
The role of both the soldiers and the lawyers in the alleged prisoner abuse will come under the spotlight tomorrow, when the first stage of a legal action on behalf of some of the victims is launched.
If the Justice and Security Bill becomes law, Ministers will be able to demand secret hearings, and to prevent the victims from ever seeing evidence about their claims.
Last night, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer, the chief British Army lawyer in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, said what went on in the secret prison network amounted to 'war crimes'.
He said it was his part of his job to monitor the treatment of prisoners taken by British Forces and the conditions at detention facilities. But he was kept 'totally in the dark' about the secret network's existence.
'This prisoner facility operated entirely outside the normal chain of command,' said Lieut Col Mercer, who has left the Army.
'I find it remarkable that I knew nothing about it at the time. What is clear now is that, if the Justice and Security Bill does become law, the truth may never come out.
'These are alleged war crimes, but what Britain did may never be disclosed. Indeed, the Bill may be specifically designed to prevent such allegations ever coming to light.'
Senior Conservative MP David Davis said the Bill seemed to be 'tailored to produce a cover-up'.
He said: 'I find it astonishing that the military authorities responsible for the legality of prisoner detention were not even notified about these secret camps. If these allegations are substantiated, they amount to a serious blow to the rule of law.
'The Bill, if passed, would be another, giving Ministers the power effectively to instruct judges to withhold evidence in court cases.'
The pending action will be taken by solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, whose earlier work brought to light details of the murders of the hotel worker Baha Mousa and other Iraqis detained by British troops. The new focus is on a number of almost simultaneous incidents at two black site locations. It is thought there were at least two more.
The first location, a desert oil pumping station known as 'H1', was the destination for 64 prisoners picked up by the Australian SAS close to Iraq's western border on April 12, 2003.
This was almost a week after the final collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, but under international law, there was still a state of war, meaning Britain should have been strictly bound by the Geneva Conventions.
Sources say that H1 was run jointly by British Forces and the American CIA, and that interrogation methods were often brutal.
One of the 64 men, a Baghdad oddjob man named Tariq Sabri, was allegedly kicked to death by a member of the RAF regiment aboard one of the Chinooks. …