mardi 26 février 2008

British troops 'tortured and killed Iraqi civilians seized after battle'

by Michael Evans, Defence Editor
February 23, 2008

The Attorney-General was urged yesterday to call in Scotland Yard to investigate allegations that British troops tortured and killed a number of Iraqi civilians seized after an ambush at a checkpoint in southern Iraq in May 2004.

Two British lawyers, Phil Shiner and Martyn Day, said there was evidence from Iraqi doctors’ certificates, following examination of 20 bodies, that bodies had been mutilated and that there were signs of torture having taken place. They cited two cases where Iraqis had an eye “gouged out” or “pulled out”, and another where a penis had been severed.

The two lawyers, who are acting for five Iraqis who were detained by soldiers and held in a military camp at Abu Naji, provided details of their witness statements for the first time yesterday.
The Iraqis said they were labourers working in the fields who had been “swept up” in a three-hour battle after a British convoy was ambushed by the Shia al-Mahdi army at the Danny Boy checkpoint, near the town of Majar al-Kabir.

They claimed that they were beaten and abused and that they heard screaming throughout the night of May 14 and 15 and shots that they believed were the sounds of Iraqis being tortured and killed.

Atiyah Sayid Abdelreza, one of the five, who were interviewed in Istanbul, said in his statement: “I never heard anything like that sound before in my life. It shocked me and filled me with such terror.”

Mr Shiner and Mr Day, who have been pursuing a judicial review in the High Court for a public inquiry into the allegations, acknowledged that they did not know for certain whether Iraqi civilians had been tortured and killed at the Abu Naji camp, but that this appeared likely.

Mr Shiner called on Baroness Scotland of Asthal, QC, the Attorney-General, to take the case out of the hands of the military and to put Scotland Yard in charge of a new investigation.

Twenty Iraqis were killed and their bodies were handed over to the Iraqi authorities, following the battle at the checkpoint near the town of Majar al-Kabir.

A ten-month Royal Military Police investigation involving interviews with 150 British personnel and 50 Iraqis concluded that all 20 were killed during the battle, and there was no evidence that another nine who had been detained and held at Abu Naji had been abused. The Iraqis suing the Ministry of Defence claim that some of those killed died at the Abu Naji camp.

The Ministry of Defence has vigorously denied the allegations and said that the 20 Iraqis all died during the Battle of Danny Boy and that the injuries were consistent with battlefield wounds. It denied that any of the bodies had been mutilated.

An official said that during the exchanges with al-Mahdi army insurgents, many types of weaponry were used, from bayonets to Challenger 2 tanks. One of the regiments involved had won nine gallantry awards during its six-month tour of Iraq. The MoD said that the Royal Military Police had carried out a robust investigation.

However, Mr Shiner said that the system of using the Royal Military Police to investigate allegations of criminal acts by British troops had failed spectacularly in the case of Baha Musa, who died in British detention in September 2003. Five members of The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (QLR) and two members of the Intelligence Corps were charged in relation to the death, but all were acquitted except for one, Corporal Donald Payne, of the QLR, who pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Mr Shiner, who is also representing the family of Mr Musa in a damages case against the MoD, said: “We call on the Attorney-General to intervene [in the Abu Naji case]. She has overall supervisory control of the Army Prosecuting Authority. We require the Attorney-General to take this matter away from the military and put it immediately in the hands of Scotland Yard.”

The MoD said that the Royal Military Police had reopened its inquiry into the Abu Naji allegations but only in reference to new witness evidence that had arisen during the High Court case brought by the Iraqi families.

The BBC One series Panorama, which spent more than a year interviewing former Iraqi prisoners and battlefield survivors, is to broadcast its findings in a programme on Monday

The witness statements

“The soldiers pushed me to the ground and handcuffed my hands behind my back. One soldier punched me repeatedly in the face. The blows were heavy and painful and I was almost knocked unconscious. I was hit hard behind my left ear with a rifle butt and kicked in the back by more than one soldier. This treatment lasted for approximately 15 minutes."
Hussein Jabbari Ali, 28

“[At the Abu Naji camp] I heard the terrible sound of someone being choked or strangled. This sound was really loud and unmistakable. Almost immediately afterwards there were four to five shots fired in the room."
Hussein Fadel Abass, 24

“The soldiers were shouting at me. When they came close I raised my hands in surrender. They circled me and one of the soldiers kicked me with his boot in my back and I fell on my face. Another put his boot on the back of my head and ground my face into the earth. This caused my face to be cut."
Ahmad Jabbar Ahmood, 27

"Whichever way I turned, they would kick me full in the face. This went on for a long time but time itself seemed to stop for me. The blows just went on and on and on. I felt I was surrounded by and in the hands of absolutely merciless men."
Atiyah Sayid Abdelreza, 22

“I sensed that there were shifts of soldiers with different soldiers whacking me if my head fell to one side if I dozed off. I would get a bang to the back of my head."
Mahdi Jassim Abdullah, 21

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