The regimental details that do not add up for military experts
Monday 03 May 2004
Daily Mirror says it received the photographs two weeks ago and conducted inquiries to establish whether they were genuine before publishing. But their authenticity was in doubt yesterday as elements of the photographs were called into question by military experts and soldiers.
The Daily Mirror says it received the photographs two weeks ago and conducted inquiries to establish whether they were genuine before publishing. But their authenticity was in doubt yesterday as elements of the photographs were called into question by military experts and soldiers.
The rifle appears to be an SA80 Mark One, known as an A1. This is the original version of the standard-issue assault rifle, before it was found to be prone to malfunction, taken out of service and redesigned. All British soldiers currently serving in Iraq were issued with a Mark Two, or A2, version. Many of the differences are hard for the untrained eye to spot, but sources close to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR), which is at the centre of the scandal, insist the weapon in the photographs is an A1. In any case, it is usual practice for a rifle to have a carrying sling attached. The same sources pointed out that the rifle is also missing a "press to talk" switch on the butt which, connected to a headset, allows soldiers to use their radio while holding the weapon.
It is traditional for soldiers to tietheir laces in a parallel fashion rather than the criss-cross pattern shown in the pictures. "The British Army do not cross lace their boots," said a retired Territorial Army soldier with experience in the QLR. Instead, one end is laced diagonally from top to bottom and the other threaded horizontally between each pair of eyelets. "The rationale was that if you got an injury to your foot one slice of your jackknife gets the boot off," the soldier said.
In one of the photographs, the soldier can be seen wearing a camouflaged floppy hat. QLR sources said soldiers in the regiment are only allowed to wear berets or helmets while on duty. But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said that all soldiers in Iraq were issued with the hats; whether soldiers were allowed to wear them was up to the commanding officer of each regiment, but such an item would be among their "desert kit".
The vehicle in which the photographs were taken is thought to be a Bedford truck of a type not deployed in combat zones "for years", the QLR source said. Another source close to the regiment said the truck looked "too clean" to be in service and did not resemble any vehicles currently used in Iraq, raising the possibility that the photographs may not have been taken there. The British Army uses a four-ton Leyland Daf vehicle.
The Mirror reported that the alleged victim had endured an eight-hour beating and broken jaw. Yet there were few marks on his body or his clothing. Colonel Bob Stewart, who commanded British forces in the Balkans, told the BBC: "The shirt looks like a football shirt. Is that the sort of shirt that a captive might be wearing, slightly silky with an Iraq flag [on it]? Why is it not dirty and dishevelled, why is the man not showing some signs of damage after eight hours of beatings?"
It is "very unusual" to see a soldier on active duty with pockets unbuttoned or webbing undone, said the retired QLR soldier. "Infantrymen especially are meant to be mobile, ready to move fast and they need to be well set up," he said. Unfastened webbing means magazines of ammunition or rations can easily be lost. "They tell each other off for things like that. It's basic soldierly discipline. Soldiers haven't many responsibilities but they do have total responsibility for their own gear."
Unlike the grainy pictures released last week showing American soldiers abusing Iraqi POWs, these are of an unusually high definition. David Sandison, a photographer for The Independent, said: "My initial reaction when I saw the picture on the front page of the Mirror was that it didn't look like they had been shot with a 'happy snappy' camera; the depth of field is too great." The photographs were taken with black and white film, which an ordinary soldier is unlikely to use. But intelligence units are known to use monochrome film, which has increased speculation that they were "set up" or taken with army equipment.
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