The father of an Iraqi teenager claimed today that his son's body showed signs of torture after it was handed back by British troops following a brutal battle.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the invasion, the first Iraqi witnesses began giving evidence before the long awaited Al-Sweady inquiry.
The father of 19-year-old Hamid Al-Sweady, after whom the inquiry was named, claimed that he saw mutilated bodies with eyes plucked out, tongues cut out, noses cut off and teeth removed.
Mizal Karim Al-Sweady, the first of 15 Iraqi witnesses to be flown to Britain to give evidence, later changed some of his claims, saying he saw just one body with eyes missing and one with a broken nose. The London hearing was told there were discrepancies between statements he had given to Iraqi Police, the Royal Military Police (RMP) and the inquiry itself.
Ordered in 2009 after then defence secretary Bob Ainsworth conceded the need for a fresh investigation, the year-long inquiry will examine allegations soldiers killed detainees after a fire fight with Shia insurgents, which became known as the battle of Danny Boy, near Majar al-Kabir in May 2004. It will also look into claims five detainees were ill treated both at Camp Abu Naji and later at a detention facility at Shaibah Logistics Base over a period of four months.
Yesterday Mr Al-Sweady said on the afternoon of the battle, his son went into fields to study for a physics exam. When he did not come home, he became “frantic” with worry and spent several hours searching farmland by torchlight.
The following day, when corpses of a number of Iraqis were released by British forces and taken to hospital, Mr Al-Sweady searched through the body bags to find his son.
In his statement to the inquiry, Mr Al-Sweady said that when he found his son's body, the jaw was dislocated, but his eyes were intact. He had a bullet wound in the middle of his neck and marks around his neck resembling a necklace, with the skin apparently burnt, as if he had been electrocuted with electric wire. The statement added that his son's right arm was completely fractured, his chest had “blueness” and bruises over it, and he had been shot in the right foot.
His statement also described a variety of injuries allegedly sustained by more than 20 Iraqis: “I saw a combination of injuries such as: eyes missing, tongues cut out, noses cut off, teeth removed, bodies had been distorted and mutilated and covered in blood.”
However, Mr Al-Sweady's statement to the Royal Military Police investigation made no mention that his son had a fractured jaw, marks to his neck or blueness to the face and chest, while the teenager's death certificate did not document marking to the neck or blueness on his chest, the inquiry was told.
It also heard that his earlier statements to Iraqi Police and the RMP did not mention apparent mutilation of other bodies.
When asked why, Mr Al-Sweady said: “I did mention this to the British police and to the Iraqi police. I talked about eyes being plucked as well.”
But he admitted he had not opened 28 body bags as earlier stated.
Counsel to the inquiry Jonathan Acton Davis QC told him: “The inquiry has been unable to find any other evidence which suggests that tongues were cut out or noses cut off. Are you sure you saw that Mr Al-Sweady?”
“Yes I am sure I saw eyes plucked out and noses broken,” he replied.
But Mr Al-Sweady, who denied that his son was a member of Iraq's Shia militia the Mahdi Army, conceded he had seen just two bodies with the eye and nose injuries: “One had a nose broken and the other had eyes plucked out.”
Neil Garnham QC, representing hundreds of soldiers involved in the case, said two statements from Mr Al-Sweady and from his wife to Iraqi police were “almost identical words, including the fact that you are described as a housewife, and the female pronoun 'she' is used to describe what you say.”
“You have been asked by Mr Acton Davis about a number of discrepancies in the evidence you have given to this inquiry, to the Iraqi police and to the Royal Military Police,” Mr Garnham said.
“Mr Al-Sweady, might the explanation for the discrepancies that Mr Acton Davis has pointed out be that you have been untruthful in some or all of the accounts that you have given?”
Mr Al-Sweady replied: “There should be no differences between them, I was on oath and I said what I believed was the truth and I don't take what others are saying as true.”
The inquiry later heard from medical assistant Assad Mozan, who was dispatched to help injured Iraqis after the battle. He claims he recognised three of the detainees – including Hamid Al-Sweady and his close friend Ali Mowat – alive in British custody the day before their bodies were handed over to relatives.
Questioning his account, Mr Acton Davis pointed to major discrepancies in his statements and the fact that when he spoke to the BBC and the Royal Military Police in 2005, he insisted he could not identify any of the detainees because he was either too far away or their heads were covered.
“By 2007 your recollection is such that you are able to identify these three men (to another BBC programme),” Mr Acton Davis queried.
Mr Mozan claimed that the divergence arose from the fact that he had been “nervous” in the initial interview: “When I spoke to the BBC in 2005, British forces were still occupying Iraq. I wanted to avoid mentioning names.”
Mr Acton Davis pointed out that he did not appear nervous about accusing British troops of treating the bodies in a “disgraceful, disgusting” manner in the same interview.