|Disaster for Blair as Iraq torture claims
THE British government was warned by Red Cross officials in
February that coalition troops were abusing and even killing Iraqi
captives, it emerged last night.
Downing Street has been dragged
into the deepening crisis after admitting ministers were shown a copy of
the Red Cross report detailing abuses so that action could be taken.
The revelation prompted immediate opposition demands that Tony
Blair explain what he and senior government colleagues knew and what steps
they took to stop the abuse of captives.
Last night, there was
further severe embarrassment for the British military after it emerged a
second regiment was apparently involved in the mistreatment of prisoners
and that soldiers could face prosecution for sexual assault.
was reported that as many as three members of the Royal Regiment of
Fusiliers were under investigation by military police after officers were
shown photographs of Iraqi captives being forced to commit homosexual
And in another development, the Ministry of Defence admitted
that British military personnel were stationed at the notorious Abu Ghraib
prison, the scene of the most sadistic abuses by US soldiers, for several
months earlier this year.
It has already been suggested that much
of the degrading treatment meted out to Iraqis was devised by the British
as an interrogation tool.
The news that UK troops were based at
Abu Ghraib raises further disturbing questions about what the British
military knew of the abuse going on there. A Downing Street spokesman last
night confirmed that the Red Cross drew their attention to allegations of
abuse earlier in the year.
The spokesman said: "The International
Committee of the Red Cross showed the government a copy of the report in
February to enable the government to comment and take action on this."
He said the Red Cross informed the government because parts of the
report concerned areas of British responsibility. He refused to reveal
what action was taken.
A leaked copy of the report, confirmed as
genuine by the agency, described prisoners kept naked in total darkness in
empty cells at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison - under US-control - and male
prisoners forced to parade around in women’s underwear. Coalition forces
also fired on unarmed prisoners from watchtowers, killing some of them. In
another episode, nine men were arrested in Basra and beaten severely,
leading to one death, it added.
New claims of abuse perpetrated by
British soldiers continue to emerge. The alleged incidents involving the
Fusiliers are said to have come to light when a soldier deposited his film
following his return from Iraq. It is not known whether the man was
responsible for taking the photographs.
The images, now held by
the MoD, are described as similar to those of American troops abusing
Iraqi prisoners, which caused outrage last week. Some are said to show
prisoners being forced to commit sex acts on each other.
confirmed that the inquiry had been completed and the files passed Army
Prosecuting Authority, which will decided on whether to proceed with
Military police are already investigating numerous
allegations of mistreatment of prisoners by members of the Queen’s
Lancashire Regiment. The unit has suffered more than a week of terrible
publicity after the Daily Mirror published pictures which it claimed
showed soldiers beating and urinating on an Iraqi prisoner.
Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that British forces may have known
of, and may even have helped devise, ‘interrogation’ techniques used by
the US military. An MoD spokesman confirmed that three British military
staff were based at Abu-Ghraid, but insisted they were unaware of abuse or
the US investigation that began in January. The three interrogators
interviewed a small number of prisoners with a view to "gathering
information" that could help the coalition.
He said their work was
consistent with the Geneva Convention and the responsibility for guarding
the prisoners remained with the US.
The spokesman said the
interrogators arrived at the prison after the abuse was discovered and
after investigations began into the allegations. One left the prison in
March while the others remained until April.
politicians insisted the stream of allegations and revelations made it
essential that the government give a full account of what it knew. Shadow
Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram said last night: "These new revelations
show that it is now imperative that Hoon or the Foreign Secretary [Jack
Straw] himself come before the House of Commons on Monday to explain when
he was first informed of the abuses in Abu Ghraib."
Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said later: "It is important that we get
to the bottom of this as soon as possible. The government must make clear
what it knew and when. These allegations have done enormous damage and it
is important to reassure both the Iraqi people and Muslims from this
country that if additional allegations are true they will be dealt with
swiftly and firmly."
Meanwhile, Scotland on Sunday can reveal that
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon is thrashing out a deal with US and Iraqi
leaders to allow the vast majority of inmates in British-controlled
prisons to come under Iraqi control when power is transferred on June 30.
Coalition forces are currently holding 8,000 prisoners in 14
separate jails around Iraq under the terms of the Geneva Convention, which
dictates the conditions of prisoners of war (PoWs).
military chiefs are desperate to hand over the responsibility to Iraqi
police as soon as possible.
Senior ministerial source said last
night: "We accept this situation has caused our forces great difficulty
and it is in all our interests to see that this responsibility is removed
from their roster.
"We have prisoners of war, security detainees
and criminal detainees, but there is no reason why the vast majority of
these cannot be guarded by local officials. I would expect that within a
month of the handover we would only have a handful of the most hardened
detainees still in our custody."