Al-Sweady inquiry: Iraqi detainees 'were kicked, punched, handcuffed and blindfolded by soldiers'

The men, who claimed to be farmers, were also threatened by an interrogator, who wielded a pole or tent peg as well as a pistol

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The Independent Online

Detainees at a British camp in Iraq complained they could smell blood, hear screaming and then the sound of cells being washed out, an inquiry into alleged abuse was told.

The men, who claimed to be farmers, were taken into custody by soldiers after a battle in 2004, accused of being fighters and members of the Mahdi Army.

As part of his opening to the Al-Sweady inquiry, Jonathan Acton Davis QC read out claims from four of nine detainees, who said they had been kicked, punched, handcuffed and blindfolded by soldiers who took them back to Camp Abu Naji, near Al Amarah.

There, the men said, the abuse continued. They were screamed at and threatened by an interrogator, who wielded a pole or tent peg as well as a pistol, and in some cases were made to strip. Their accounts, however, the barrister explained were inconsistent with each other and, in some cases, with earlier evidence they had given themselves.

Mr Acton Davis, counsel to the inquiry, related their version of detention on the second day of the long-awaited inquiry into allegations that injured Iraqis were taken back to an army camp after the brutal Battle of Danny Boy and tortured or killed - claims that have been vigorously contested by the military.

Ordered in 2009 after then defence secretary Bob Ainsworth conceded the need for a fresh investigation, the inquiry will examine allegations that some of the 20 dead handed back to their families after the fire fight with Shia insurgents near Majar al-Kabir in May 2004 had been alive when taken into custody. It is also examining claims five detainees were ill treated both at the nearby camp and later at a detention facility at Shaibah Logistics Base over a period of four months.

Mr Acton Davis said the detainees were initially taken back to Camp Abu Naji where they were held in a converted shower block and interrogated. There they were medically examined and given biscuits and water.

Relating evidence from Abbas Al-Hmeidawi ,Mr Acton Davis said: “He tried to sleep but soldiers would hit and punch him in the head.

”He heard others making a variety of noises, shouting and screaming as if they were being tortured. He then heard water being splashed on the floor and the sound of mopping.“

In contrast the army denies ill treatment and insists the dead were wrapped in white shrouds and returned as swiftly as possible to their families to be buried with dignity

Earlier, the inquiry was told that soldiers had brought the dead and detainees into camp after a three-hour battle in which British soldiers were repeatedly ambushed and two were injured.

Their bodies were transported in to try and identify whether two insurgents, believed to be responsible for the deaths of six Royal Military Police the previous year, were among the dead.

The corpses were immediately taken to the camp medical facility, the inquiry was told, where the doctor Major Kevin Burgess examined them.

”He checked their pulses and pupils and could detect no signs of life and declared all the bodies he examined as being dead,“ Mr Acton Davis explained.

Captain Francis Myatt, the regimental padre, further examined the bodies, Mr Acton Davis explained: ”Padre Myatt said that he was aware at the time of allegations soldiers mutilated the dead during the Falklands war and he had looked at the dead bodies to check for any signs of mutilation. He saw nothing to indicate any body parts had been removed.“

”He (Capt Myatt) decided it would be more respectful if they were wrapped in white sheets inside the body bags. He also considered it would be less stressful for the relatives if the bodies were made more presentable,“ continued the QC.

The following day Lieutenant Colonel Matt Maer, commanding officer of The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (PWRR), met with Majar al-Kabir's chief of police, mayor and town council leader and explained that he wished ”to return them to their families in order that they can be buried with due dignity“.

Photographs, Mr Acton Davis explained, were taken of all the corpses by Captain James Rands as they arrived in camp and those had been examined by experts. Two had medical bandages after efforts had been made to save their lives on the battlefield.

”If they were taken, as Captain Rands says they were, when two tranches of 12 and eight Iraqi dead arrived at Camp Abu Naji on the evening of 14 May then allegations of unlawful killing within the camp will not be made out,“ said Mr Acton Davis.

”But if they were not taken then that would tend to undermine the military account and may well, probably would, support suggestions that they were alive when they arrived at Camp Abu Naji and were subsequently killed unlawfully.“