Does it matter now if the pictures were fakes?


YES: Col Bob Stewart

YES: Col Bob Stewart

The impact of such images has had a devastating effect. Those pictures were worth not a thousand, but millions of words to those who oppose British military involvement in Iraq.

To me this is personal. Soldiers of my Regiment, the Cheshires, many of whom were with me in Bosnia just over 10 years ago, are now patrolling the centre of Basra. And they face greatly increased danger. Last weekend five soldiers were wounded as unusual violence erupted there.

Two days ago the British Military Cemetery in Gaza was desecrated - something that has never happened before. Tombs of previous generations of soldiers who went abroad for their country were upturned and strewn with pictures copied from the Mirror newspaper.

Such images have been a tremendous recruiting coup for anti-British terrorists or insurgents, not just in Iraq. Fuelled by righteous anger, attacks against our soldiers in Iraq have already risen. Whatwill happen to any British subject who happens to be captured or taken hostage by opponents?

Until now our soldiers are considered to be excellent in peace-making situations precisely because of their reputation for acting with fairness, decency, honesty and care for those with whom they interact. If our good name is now shattered that assumption is blown to bits. Operations on the ground will be far harder and more dangerous too.

Proving the truth about those images matters to everyone in the Armed Forces. Soldiers are disgusted by the implication that any colleagues could have carried out war crimes. If the reality is that the photos were fakes then at least we can be reassured. If they are real they want the culprits identified, tried and appropriately punished. Only by cutting out a cancer can a body get better.

Disgusting treatment of prisoners is against Article III of the Geneva Convention and a war crime. In my view, deliberate publication of fake photographs showing misconduct by British soldiers may not be far off a war crime either - especially if anyone dies as a result.

Col Bob Stewart, former commander of UN forces in Bosnia

NO: Alice Mahon MP

Those who concentrate on the claims that the Daily Mirror photographs are fake miss the main point of the revelations of the past week - that is, the extent of the disclosures and the variety of sources from which they come, including the evidence of western aid agencies with reputations for caution and balance.

To concentrate on one detail is to avoid the impact that abuse by US and UK forces is having across the world. Britain and America are supposed to be civilised countries. These acts of torture and humiliation that are coming to light have undermined the last vestiges of support for President Bush and Prime Minister Blair.

The Mirror has four soldiers' testimonies to back up their photos. As an MP, I have also been contacted by soldiers who told me about abuse known to them and they are utterly ashamed.

I am not an expert and in no position myself to say whether or not these pictures are real. I merely note that those who are making these claims have offered little more than speculation and assertions of their own, while the government has not attempted to deny them.

With the army investigating itself, perhaps we will never know about these pictures. That is not a healthy situation and it will not set sceptics minds at rest.

People were persuaded to go to war by claims about weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Next we were told that the Iraqis welcomed British troops as liberators, when we were seen as occupiers all along.

Britain is in a coalition with the US in Iraq. We know our partner has been torturing, humiliating and perhaps even murdering prisoners. That corrupts us as much as it corrupts them in the eyes of the world.

Last week we saw pictures of Fallujah flattened to the ground in an act of reprisal by American forces. Now one revolting image after another flits across our TV screens of prisoner abuse. People are asking: is there any end to the moral depth we have sunk?

The British electorate has every right to know what is going on. And only an independent inquiry will lay our minds at rest.

Alice Mahon is Labour MP for Halifax

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