Iraqi prisoner abuse evidence is widespread, claim soldiers

Key points

• New claims over abuse in Iraq

• Military Police to investigate alleged images of Iraqis being tortured

• Doubts expressed over authenticity of photographs

• Weapons, clothes and vehicles claimed to be incorrect

Key quote: "Maybe the officers don’t know what is going on - but everybody else does. I have seen literally hundreds of pictures." - Anonymous soldier

Story in full: FRESH and potentially explosive claims about the alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British forces in the Gulf threatened to deepen the anguish for the government and the military last night, despite uncertainty over the veracity of photographs published over the weekend showing an Iraqi man being beaten and urinated on by soldiers.

According to the Daily Mirror, - which first published the picture - hundreds of photographs have been taken of UK servicemen mistreating Iraqi civilians.

Troops serving in southern Iraq have been swapping the pictures among themselves, according to the unnamed soldiers from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, who have sparked a furore by releasing photos apparently showing British personnel abusing an Iraqi prisoner.

The new claims, if proven, would contradict the assurance by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, that any misconduct in British ranks was "exceptional" and limited to a handful of servicemen.

The new allegations came as Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said it had uncovered evidence of a "pattern of torture" of Iraqi prisoners by coalition forces.

But doubts were cast yesterday on the authenticity of the photos, which appeared to show the hooded man being struck with a rifle butt, urinated on and having a gun held to his head.

Sources close to the regiment claimed the rifle, hats and vehicle seen in the pictures did not match those issued to men in Iraq, and queried why there was no sign of sweat, dirt or injuries on the body of the victim of the alleged assault.

However last night, the soldiers who made the pictures public told the Mirror: "We stand by every single word of our story. This happened - it is not a hoax and the army knows a lot more has happened."

The Royal Military Police is carrying out an urgent inquiry into claims that the man was subjected to an eight-hour ordeal after being picked up in Iraq for suspected theft last year. It was claimed that he had his jaw broken and teeth smashed before being dumped from a moving vehicle.

In today’s edition of the Mirror, the soldiers detail other alleged incidents of brutality towards local people, including a baton attack which left a prisoner with a compound fracture of his arm.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the soldiers said: "Maybe the officers don’t know what is going on - but everybody else does. I have seen literally hundreds of pictures."

Many of the pictures were destroyed last September, when the soldiers’ luggage was searched as they left Iraq, they said.

Last night a Ministry of Defence spokesman said the authorities were not aware of other photos of prisoners being mistreated, or of a culture of trading pictures. "If people have got evidence of such activity, then they should bring it to the attention of the army authorities. We won’t stand for activity like that," he said.

The MoD spokesman was unable to confirm reports that the regiment was given a parade-ground dressing down in their Cyprus base by its commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Mendonca, following the publication of the photos on Saturday.

Sir Michael Jackson, the army’s most senior general and chief of general staff, denounced the acts depicted as "shameful", while Mr Blair said that, if genuine, they showed behaviour that was "completely and utterly unacceptable".

The Conservative defence spokesman, Nicholas Soames, yesterday queried the Mirror’s decision to publish the photographs, warning that there was a "question mark" over whether or not they were genuine.

"One has to wonder at the behaviour of the Mirror in publishing these pictures, when there is clearly a question mark over their veracity."

In a statement, the Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, said: "The Daily Mirror makes no apology for exposing this outrageous and unlawful behaviour, which has been common knowledge among disgusted British servicemen in Basra for many months."

Before the Mirror printed its fresh claims, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said the accusations were being taken very seriously. He told BBC1’s Breakfast with Frost: "I can’t comment on the detail of the investigation, except to say that the allegations are terrible and they will be investigated."

Asked whether the allegations could eventually lead to compensation claims, he said: "We will accept whatever obligations there are upon us."

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