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British troops hit by new iraq abuse claims { May 7 2004 }

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British Troops Hit by New Iraq Abuse Claims
Fri May 7, 2004 07:20 AM ET

By Mike Peacock
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is investigating fresh charges of abuse of Iraqi prisoners after a newspaper paraded a soldier on Friday who said he had witnessed savage beatings.

The Daily Mirror said the soldier, attached to a regiment already under a cloud, had given military police full details of the attacks, including names and ranks of those involved.

He said the violence was led by three ringleaders.

The Mirror has already printed pictures apparently showing British soldiers urinating on a hooded prisoner and beating him with a rifle butt but their authenticity has been questioned.

Politicians and human rights groups said there appeared to be less doubt about the new allegations which, if proven, would make life even more difficult in the tinderbox of Iraq as the British government considers deploying more soldiers there.

"This is extremely serious for the reputation of the Army," opposition Conservative defense spokesman Nicholas Soames told BBC Radio. "If there are some bad hats, and it sounds as though there may have been, they must be dealt with."

Human rights group Amnesty International said it had handed the UK authorities testimony about abuse a year ago.

"The sad thing is that it has taken this long for people to take the claims seriously," a spokeswoman said.

On one occasion, the soldier said, a corporal went up to a prisoner who had a sandbag over his face and poked his fingers into the man's eyeballs until he was screaming in pain.

He told the Mirror he had witnessed four beatings. "They'd be on their knees, and when they dropped their hands they'd be kicked until they raised them again," he said.

The Ministry of Defense said an inquiry was under way and confirmed the man had spoken to Royal Military Police. It said several probes into charges of abuse were already ongoing.


The Mirror, which opposed the war in Iraq, published pictures last week soon after images emerged in the United States of U.S. soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail humiliating naked prisoners. They have inflamed the Arab world.

President Bush has been forced to apologize publicly for his troops' actions.

The Mirror's rivals have suggested the pictures of British troops might be fake, unlike the U.S. photographs.

"Today's revelations, I think, throw the pressure back on the government and the British army," Mirror editor Piers Morgan said. "They have got to come forward and explain whether this abuse happened and if it did, how bad it was."

Analysts said true or not, the worst suspicions of Iraqis and the wider Muslim world had been reinforced.

"The British story has got completely overlaid by the American one," said Rosemary Hollis at the Royal Institute of International Affairs. "It doesn't matter if the British pictures are true or false. The damage is done."

Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said on Friday Britain had made no decision yet to send more troops to Iraq but military sources expect an announcement soon -- as gaps left by departing Spanish soldiers need to be filled.

Hoon told the Guardian newspaper troops should not go to the flashpoint towns of Najaf and Kerbala, potentially far more dangerous than the city of Basra which they now patrol, until local Shi'ite leaders had been given time to reach a political solution to end escalating violence.

But he did not deny they may end up there at some point.

(Additional reporting by Astrid Zweynert, Jeremy Lovell, Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Graff)

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British troops hit by new iraq abuse claims { May 7 2004 }

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