'Shocking' photos prompt calls for officers to stand trial

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The Independent Online

"Shocking" photographs of Iraqi prisoners allegedly being abused by British soldiers led to calls last night for officers to face trial alongside the troops currently facing a court martial.

"Shocking" photographs of Iraqi prisoners allegedly being abused by British soldiers led to calls last night for officers to face trial alongside the troops currently facing a court martial.

The images, which were broadcast around the world, drew united condemnation from Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Michael Howard. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition also joined forces in playing down growing alarm at Westminster that it could be part of wide-scale abuse in the armed services.

Mr Blair said the images should not be allowed to "tarnish" the good name of the armed forces. "I think everyone finds those photographs shocking and appalling - there are simply no other words to describe them," he said.

Backbench Labour MPs protested that no officers were in the dock alongside the three British soldiers involved in the court marshal. "It is a scandal," said Harry Cohen. Peter Kilfoyle, a former defence minister, said: "It has echoes of Abu Ghraib where the buck stopped at a very junior level, despite the comments of the general commander of the prison [Janis Karpinski] that the abuse was part of a general ethos. The MoD has to demonstrate that does not apply here."

Mr Kilfoyle said there would be resistance to more troops being sent to Iraq, unless it was to cover a general withdrawal.

Mr Straw warned that Britain would be unfairly damaged by the images. He said they were "disgusting and degrading". He told BBC radio: "I am absolutely clear that activity of this kind, illustrated by these photographs, was confined to a tiny handful of British soldiers. But yes, it is damaging. They are appalling photographs."

Mr Howard said: "The appalling photographs ... bring shame upon our country, but we should recognise that they in no way reflect the true character of Britain's armed forces."

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was said to have been appalled when he saw the photographs last week. He briefed Michael Ancram, shadow Foreign Secretary, and Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, last Friday about the scandal that was about to break.

Defence ministers will resist demands in the Commons today for an overhaul of training to ensure British troops are under clear orders that the abuse of prisoners is unacceptable. Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, will tell MPs that an independent inspection of training in the armed forces is due to report back in March.

Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the photographs would add to the problems faced by the Army in Iraq, and warned that more soldiers might now be needed to bolster security. "Their very circulation is liable to increase the difficulties and the dangers for our good troops," he said.