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'Torture' picture soldiers face Iraq death charges

Key Points

• UK soldiers face charges over death of Basra waiter, Baha Mousa

• Mousa’s family and 13 other Iraqis have demanded a judicial review

• Military Police launch inquiry investigating leads in UK, Iraq and Cyprus

Key Quote: "The allegations are taken extremely seriously, and if found to be true, then the appropriate action will also be serious."- Jack Straw

Story in full: SOLDIERS from the regiment at the heart of the furore over the torture of Iraqi prisoners are facing charges in connection with the death of a waiter in the southern city of Basra.

An investigation into the death of Baha Mousa has concluded that there is a case for soldiers from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment Regiment (QLR) to answer.

Mr Mousa’s relatives - and the families of 13 other Iraqis alleged to have been killed by British forces - will today lodge papers at the High Court demanding a judicial review of the cases.

The developments in Britain came as the United States admitted two Iraqi prisoners were murdered by Americans and that 23 other deaths are being investigated in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said of the images of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated by US forces: "The actions of the soldiers in those photographs are totally unacceptable and un-American."

The families of Iraqis demanding compensation from the British government intend to bring test cases to establish whether the UK armed forces in Iraq are subject to the Human Rights Act.

Their lawyers are also demanding a wide-ranging inquiry into the deaths, which they say could extend to an examination of the planning and preparedness for both the post-war period and for the war itself.

Mr Mousa was arrested last September by QLR soldiers searching for weapons. Witnesses say that a hood was placed over his head and his wrists were bound before he was kicked and beaten by the soldiers.

The case is just one of 33 investigations into civilian deaths, injuries and ill-treatment involving British troops. They include allegations that a prisoner in the custody of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was partially stripped, tied up and gagged before being suspended from a forklift truck.

The Army Prosecuting Authority is considering charges in that case, but 15 other allegations have been thrown out after investigators decided there was no case to answer.

The current row was triggered by the publication in the Mirror newspaper of photographs which purported to show soldiers from the QLR urinating on a hooded prisoner, as well as beating and kicking him.

The authenticity of the images has been thrown into considerable doubt, but allegations that soldiers from the regiment were involved in mistreating prisoners are being taken seriously.

Yesterday, the government made clear that any soldiers found to have been involved in the abuse of prisoners would be dealt with severely.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said military personnel would face serious punishment if the photographs were genuine.

Speaking after talks with Ahmed Maher, Egypt’s foreign minister, Mr Straw said: "The allegations are taken extremely seriously and if found to be true, then the appropriate action will also be serious."

Comments from Mr Maher made clear how the allegations were being treated in the Arab world.

Describing the disputed photographs as despicable, he also urged the United States administration to punish their troops who had been pictured abusing prisoners. Those images had "revolted everybody in the world", he said.

"It is clear that when you advocate human rights you should be the first to implement them and make sure they are not being trampled by soldiers who are supposed to have come to put an end to an era of mistreatment," added Mr Maher.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, said the priority was to find the truth as quickly as possible. "If British soldiers are found to have acted unlawfully then appropriate action will be taken. We are determined to leave no stone unturned," he said.

The claims were already undermining the work of the armed forces trying to restore stability in Iraq, he added. "These allegations have been put right across the Arab world and also into Iraq," Mr Ingram told MPs. "There is always a question of lives being put at risk because of what may prove to be unfounded allegations so it is on the conscience of those who run it in this way."

While Mr Ingram said that the Ministry of Defence had accepted the photographs at face value, he confirmed that the Special Investigations Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police was examining their authenticity. The Mirror had so far handed over some 20 photographs to the MoD, he added.

In its editorial yesterday, the newspaper said that it had "no doubt" the photographs were genuine and that the story they revealed was "as real as it is horrifying".

But Mr Ingram urged the newspaper to pass on the names of the two QLR soldiers who had made the allegations so their claims could be investigated.

The chairman of the Commons defence select committee is proposing to call the Mirror’s editor, Piers Morgan, for questioning about the images.

Bruce George, a Labour MP, said there was intense interest in the story and that calling Mr Morgan could "clear the air".

The SIB has launched a three-pronged inquiry, following up lines of investigation in the UK, Iraq and Cyprus, where the regiment is based.

The allegations, and the publication of the photographs, have come at a difficult time for British forces, who have been under increasing pressure in southern Iraq. Senior officers and soldiers from all ranks have expressed anger at the damage done to their reputation.

But the reputation of British troops will come under further scrutiny today, when lawyers representing the 14 families of Iraqis alleged to have died at the hands of British forces are due to lodge papers at the High Court in London seeking a judicial review.

The lawyers include a barrister from Matrix Chambers - the chambers of the Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Booth - and the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers. If the courts rule in their favour, the lawyers will argue that as a matter of law, there should be an independent inquiry into the deaths in the UK.

In a statement, they said: "Such an inquiry may examine the extent of planning and preparedness of the occupation, and thus, for the Iraq war itself."

Yesterday, the US-appointed human rights minister in Iraq said he had resigned to protest about abuses of Iraqi detainees by US guards.

Abdul-Basat al-Turki said he had quit "not only because I believe that the use of violence is a violation of human rights, but also because these methods in the prisons means that the violations are a common act".

 
 
 

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