The British army allowed its soldiers to shoot unarmed civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to an exclusive report by the Middle East Eye.
Ian Cobain who authored the report interviewed former British soldiers, who said they were given direct orders to shoot at civilians who were under surveillance.
This policy was justified under the premise that unarmed civilians were suspected of placing improvised explosive devices (IED’s) or acting as spotters for the insurgents.
However, soldiers still shot at innocent civilians without confirming if they posed an actual threat or were living their normal lives, more so because majority of the shootings were carried during night-time patrols.
The report stated that a soldier in southern Iraq claimed he and fellow British troops were permitted to shoot anyone who “acted suspiciously”.
This easing of the rules of engagement resulted in “a killing spree”, according to one former soldier, who mentioned that he and other soldiers were reassured they would be protected if there were any investigations by the military police.
The former soldier to the MEE: “Our commanders, they would tell us: ‘We will protect you if any investigation comes. Just say you genuinely thought your life was at risk – those words will protect you’.”
Another ex-soldier, who served in Basra in 2007, mentioned that he “had never seen such lawlessness”.
He said: “We were shooting old men, young men.
“Anyone you deem is a terrorist, you shoot them.
“But how could we know if they were a threat? Not all of them were dickers, some were just holding phones.”
In one incident, the ex-soldiers who were interviewed said they witnessed Soviet weapons being planted beside the bodies of two unarmed teenage boys who were killed by British troops in Afghanistan to make it seem like they were Taliban fighters.
Another former mentioned that he saw similar Soviet-era guns, known as “drop weapons”, being stored at other British bases.
He said: “I’m fairly sure that they were being kept for that purpose.”
Military legal experts said in the report that shooting “dickers” (English military slang for ‘spotters’) is not deemed illegal, as long as they are not physically engaged in hostilities. Civilians are still expected to be afforded the benefit of the doubt.
MEE were unable to independently verify the accounts of the former soldiers Cobain interviewed.
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment.