(Photo: Vertigogen / flickr)
Britain's Ministry of Defense has launched an investigation into new claims that soldiers sexually abused Iraqi detainees and subjected them to mock executions, hooding, and used dogs to incite fear--interrogation methods that were also used by US soldiers and personally approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The charges come on the heels of Britian's complete withdrawal from Iraq last summer.
The allegations by former Iraqi detainees include one in which a 16-year-old Iraqi boy claims he was raped by two British soldiers on an army base. One of the victims has likened the alleged abuse to the torture and sexual humiliation that took place in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, which was run by US forces.
The Ministry of Defense confirmed it is probing 33 cases of sexual abuse and torture.
But in a letter sent to Britain's Ministry of Defense, Phil Shiner, the attorney representing the Iraqis who leveled the charges, said he has it "on good authority that there are hundreds of cases that are going uninvestigated.
"If you are an Iraqi and terrible things have happened to you then how would you know that we have a judicial system in this country to deal with it? My guess is that many of them will remain buried."
Shiner added in his letter that the similarities between the type of abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib by American soldiers and the new charges against Britsh troops is not surprising.
"Given the history of the U.K.'s involvement in the development of these techniques alongside the US, it is deeply concerning that there appears to be strong similarities between instances of the use of sexual humiliation," he said.
Shiner's law firm, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), published a report last June, "British Forces in Iraq: The Emerging Picture of Human Rights Violations and the Role of Judicial Review," which documented the cases at the center of the Ministry of Defense's inquiry.
One such case, according to an Associated Press report, is that of a 16-year-old boy who claimed “that he was among a group of Iraqis in May 2003 who were taken to the Shatt-al-Arab British camp to help fill sandbags.”
In a statement reported by The Independent newspaper, he alleged when he entered a room to get more sandbags he saw two British male soldiers engaged in oral sex. When he tried to leave, he alleges the men started to beat and kick him. When he fell to the floor, he claims one of the men held a blade to his neck while the other soldier stripped him naked. He claims the two British soldiers, one after the other, raped him.
In another claim:
[A] 35-year-old carpenter said he was arrested in April 2006 and taken to the British camp at Shaaibah where he alleges he was subjected to sexual abuse and humiliation by both male and female soldiers.He alleged soldiers used to watch pornographic films and would play loud music when he tried to pray. He also alleged that female soldiers exposed themselves or taunted him sexually. He alleged a soldier in the observation tower used to point the laser spot of his gun at his penis when he was in the toilet.
The AP also noted that accusations British soldiers abused Iraqis have been ongoing since 2003 and has already resulted in a $5 million settlement the UK paid to abuse victims in one case lead to a war war crimes conviction against a British corporal.
According to the Independent, evidence is scheduled to be presented Monday in the latter case in which British troops were accused of beating an Iraqi father to death during a raid on the Basra hotel he worked at in 2003.
Cpl. Donald Payne, the only soldier convicted in connection with the murder, is expected to testify in the public inquiry.
PIL is the lead legal team representing Daoud Mousa, the father of the victim, Baha Mousa, and nine other Iraqis who were allegedly abused by British soldiers.
According to the law firm, "as a result of the use of conditioning techniques, Baha Mousa was killed and nine other men (most of them colleagues from the hotel where Baha Mousa worked) were badly injured in what clearly amounted to torture in breach of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights."
In a statement, the Ministry of Defense said it was taking the new allegations of abuse “very seriously” but warned that the claims "must not be taken as fact" until the investigation is complete.
“Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behavior, displaying integrity and selfless commitment,” the ministry’s statement said. “There have been instances when individuals have behaved badly but only a tiny number have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards."
The report published by Shiner's law firm, however, contradicts the Ministry of Defense's position.
"The details of the abuse and the use of coercive interrogation techniques (hooding, stressing, food and water deprivation) are all too familiar from the case studies [detailed in the report]. With the ever mounting evidence of repeated systemic abuse, the protests that these atrocities have been caused by a few rotten apples ring ever more hollow," the report says.
Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell told the BBC that he will personally oversee a special unit within the Ministry of Defense to probe the abuse claims, but rejected calls for a public inquiry.
Channeling Rumsfeld, Rammell disputed claims that abuse was widespread.
"Over 120,000 British soldiers served in Iraq. In the vast majority of cases they adhered to the highest standards of behavior," he said. "There is no evidence that systematic abuse was a feature of our operations on a widespread basis within Iraq."
Rumsfeld and other high-ranking Bush administration officials pinned the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib on a "few bad apples." But a Senate Armed Services Committee report released earlier this year disputed the "few bad apples" theory.
The panel's report concluded that a February 7, 2002 action memo signed by President George W. Bush, which excluded "war on terror" suspects from Geneva Conventions' protections, and orders Rumsfeld issued to military officials authorizing specific interrogation methods directly lead to the abuse and the deaths of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own,” the committee report said. “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
The alleged victims waited until Britain withdrew the last of its troops from Iraq last summer before coming forward because they feared "the British would come back and punish them," Mazin Younis, the Iraqi human rights campaigner who has been compiling the abuse claims, told the BBC.
"Now the British are out," Younis said.