Military police question British soldier over 'PoW torture' photos

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The Independent Online

Military police were questioning a British soldier last night over photographs allegedly depicting troops torturing an Iraqi prisoner of war.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the soldier was a member of the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, part of the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats.

Although the MoD has refused to name him, he is understood to be Gary Bartlam, 18, from Polesworth, near Tamworth, Staffordshire.

One picture is reported to show a PoW, gagged and bound in netting, dangling from a forklift truck driven by a soldier. Other photographs taken in southern Iraq apparently show soldiers performing sex acts close to Iraqi prisoners.

The photographs came to light when they were handed into the Max Spielman developing shop in Tamworth.

Staff alerted police who arrested the soldier, who was on home leave. His rank has not been revealed. He is being held in military custody while the Special Investigations Branch of the Royal Military Police conducts an inquiry.

After the police reported the incident to the MoD it was reported that ministry officials asked the developing shop to change that day's shift and for staff not to speak about what they had seen. If the allegations are substantiated, they would breach the Geneva Convention, which demands prisoners are "protected against violence or intimidation, insults and public curiosity". A soldier convicted of that offence in a court martial could be imprisoned or discharged from the Army.

They would also prove embarrassing to the MoD, which went to great lengths to show the British military's humane treatment of PoWs. A spokesman said it could be weeks before the investigation is finished, adding: "They are very serious allegations and have to be dealt with thoroughly and comprehensively.

"If there is any truth in these allegations, the Ministry of Defence is appalled. We take our responsibility to PoWs very seriously. The Geneva Convention makes it clear that prisoners of war are entitled to respect to their persons and their honour."

The 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, based in Celle, Germany, was among the forces that captured Basra on 6 April. Troops were filmed during the war guarding hooded prisoners. The prisoners were said to be Baath party officials and the hoods were to conceal their identities, allegedly for their own protection.

Amnesty International said the torture allegations must not be "swept under the carpet". A spokeswoman said: "We would expect any such allegations be treated extremely seriously by the MoD and investigated thoroughly. We welcome the fact that the soldier concerned has been arrested and investigations have started.

"There is no doubt, if prisoners of war were suspended from a net, it is clearly degrading treatment and it should be investigated thoroughly."

Stressing that the allegations had not been substantiated, Paul Keetch, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: "From time to time, even the best-trained army in the world will have a few rotten apples in the barrel. But that should not distract us from the excellent humanitarian work being done in Iraq by the Army."

The inquiry follows separate allegations by a US army major that Colonel Tim Collins of the British Army had kicked, punched and threatened Iraqi PoWs. He denies the claims.