On Politics and Justice: British Military Justice following War Crimes Allegations in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2001-Present
Though the wars in Iraq (2003-2011) and Afghanistan (2011-2021) often bring to mind heroic images of weary soldiers surrounded by sand and rubble, a second set of pictures of significantly less moral fortitude have also left their mark on the British public consciousness. News images of Baha Mousa’s battered corpse, of Iraqis being tied in nets, hung from forklifts and sexually humiliated at Camp Breadbasket, and of the killing of an injured Taliban soldier by a British marine, have all challenged typical understandings of British soldiering.
Moreover, while the incidents recorded in these snapshots of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate incidents of abuse which clearly contravene the laws of warfare, the processes of accountability which followed these acts of criminality have been far from clear-cut. Traditionally closed-off apparatuses of military justice are now increasingly being brought within view of public and political scrutiny, and as a result, the search for justice, and potentially just as importantly for explanations, continues to overshadow discussions of Britain’s military and its conduct in contemporary warfare.
Public debate concerning Britain’s controversial overseas involvement and its public image as a champion of human rights continues to be inflamed by these unfortunate incidents long after sentences, or, more commonly, acquittals, have been handed down. This project seeks to better understand how military justice has been understood within public and political spheres following allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses during these conflicts, and explore what impacts this has had on Britain and its military.
Professor Rachel Kerr