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British soldiers prepare their armored vehile to patrol Ahmed al-Ahmedi, 30 miles south west of Baghdad, November 5, 2004. © 2004 Reuters

Yesterday was a good – if belated – day for justice in the United Kingdom, with a court’s ruling that British troops were responsible for a slew of abuses against detainees in Iraq.

But today was not a good day for accurate reporting of the case, with London’s Daily Mail distorting the verdict, and giving it the headline: “Human Rights Fiasco.”

The facts are a British judge issued a detailed ruling on Thursday, after hearing extensive evidence, about the abuse of detainees by British troops during the Iraq occupation more than a decade ago. His findings, in a civil case for damages, that British forces inflicted inhuman and degrading treatment on detainees, makes for sobering reading.

One case concerned Abd Ali Hameed Ali Al-Waheed, a computer programmer whom British soldiers took from his home in 2007. The judge found he had been repeatedly beaten by the soldiers, probably with rifle butts, while being taken to a military base. At the base, British forces deliberately deprived him of sleep, and also of sight and hearing by covering up his eyes and ears for long periods and whenever he was taken from his cell to be interrogated. The judge found no justification for these abuses and ordered the Ministry of Defence to pay compensation to him and the other applicants.

The judge also found that Al-Waheed had been detained unlawfully for weeks, as British forces continued to hold him even after their detention review committee ordered his release. The judge’s ruling stated clearly that none of the Iraqi claimants, including Al-Waheed, had been engaged in terrorist activists or posed any threat to the security of Iraq.

None of this would be apparent from reading the Daily Mail’s front-page story, which glossed over the fact the judge found that British soldiers abused prisoners and that all the applicants were cleared of any suspicion of terrorism. It quotes a member of parliament, Johnny Mercer, attacking the ruling. Mercer previously successfully campaigned to get the UK government to shut down criminal investigations into war crimes in Iraq.

It is in the background of such attacks on attempts to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in Iraq, that a British judge has weighed up the evidence and ruled that unlawful abuses took place.

That isn’t a fiasco. It is justice doing its work.

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