Iraq inquiry hears claims of torture by British soldiers

Thayne Forbes, the Chairman of the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry, arrives for the first day of the inquiry
Thayne Forbes, the Chairman of the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry, arrives for the first day of the inquiry
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A catalogue of alleged abuse, torture and unlawful killing by British soldiers in Iraq was alleged at a public inquiry has heard.

Patrick O’Connor QC made the claims before the long-awaited Al-Sweady Inquiry yesterday in central London which is examining allegations that UK soldiers murdered and tortured Iraqis after the Battle of Danny Boy in Maysan Province, southern Iraq, in May 2004.

Iraqi detainees say they were kicked in the head while they were helpless, had to endure beatings, rough handling, strip searches, abuse once in their cells, sleep deprivation, mock executions and violence while being escorted to and from being interrogated, it was claimed.

Mr O’Connor QC, representing nine Iraqi survivors and bereaved relatives of people who died on the battlefield, said: “These are not matters of individual spontaneous misconduct. They are planned, calculated and trained abuses by branches of the state.”

It is alleged that Iraqis were unlawfully killed at Camp Abu Naji (CAN) near Majar-al-Kabir on 14 and 15 May 2004, and that five Iraqi detainees were tortured and ill-treated both at CAN and at Shaibah Logistics Base, where they were held for the next four months.

Mr O’Connor said that all nine detainees had said they had been “kicked in the head when they were defenceless” and complained of being beaten when being transported to CAN with “blows to enforce silence”.

The shock of capture was maintained through rough handling, it was claimed, and strip searches were carried out which would have had a “strong psychological impact on the Iraqis”.

They also suffered medical neglect at CAN and oppressive or tactical questioning, it was claimed.

Various witnesses described hearing shouting, the banging of a metal pole, sobbing, crying and the sound of tables being overturned and chairs being thrown, the inquiry heard.

The banging of the metal pole was a “shock tactic and would play on the detainee’s mind,” it was suggested.

There was sleep deprivation and water squeezed into their mouths so they choked and could not drink, it was alleged.

Mock executions were used as a part of a “calculated and sinister regime to break down these detainees”, Mr O’Connor claimed.

Tapes of different kinds of screams were played as white noise, but this was denied.

Neil Garnham QC, representing more than 480 soldiers who are involved in the case, described the allegations as “utterly groundless”.

The legal representatives have been “hoodwinked by propaganda” and “duped on their visit to Iraq into playing the part of servants to the propaganda machine of the extremists”, he said.

There are a number of “serious flaws” from the Iraqi witnesses and forensic evidence does not back up claims of mistreatment, he said.

There are “stark conflicts of evidence in almost every important issue in this inquiry”, Mr Garnham told the hearing.

Mr Garnham said there is “no direct evidence at all” to support the allegations.

“If the military are lying then it is the most massive of conspiracies,” Mr Garnham argued.

“The idea that in nine years not a single member of the Armed Forces at CAN would not have revealed a word about this alleged mass murder would be astonishing.”

Mr Garnham argued there has been a “concerted effort to invent” allegations of murder and abuse at the hands of the British.

It appears the death certificates were “altered to fit a particular narrative”, he claimed.

Mr Garnham suggested there are inconsistencies between the accounts of different Iraq witnesses, saying there were “inherently probable” factors in their statements.

There would have had to have been “innocent bystanders who just happened to be armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers”, he claimed.

“Much of the Iraqi evidence is tainted by an anti-Western and anti-British bias that was already present at the time of the events of May 14. It is clear that most of the Iraqi witnesses held and continue to hold very negative views about British and Western motives and their presence in Iraq. Several of them say so expressly,” Mr Garnham said.

The Ministry of Defence has vigorously denied all the allegations, saying any deaths happened on the battlefield. The MoD also claims there was no mistreatment.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday.