Iraqi prisoner scandal grows

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The Independent US

The full extent of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners began to emerge last night when the United States announced it had launched investigations into the deaths of 23 detainees and the murder of two others.

The full extent of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners began to emerge last night when the United States announced it had launched investigations into the deaths of 23 detainees and the murder of two others.

The British Government was also under immense pressure as it admitted that 33 cases of civilian deaths, injuries or ill-treatment in its custody have been looked into. Meanwhile, controversy continued to rage over the pictures published in the Daily Mirror newspaper allegedly showing the torture of Iraqi prisoners, with further allegations they had been faked.

In the US, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Pentagon top brass were heavily criticised over their failure to prevent the abuse and torture of Iraqi detainees. In Washington, an army official revealed that one US soldier was convicted of murder for shooting a prisoner to death in September 2003 at a detention centre in Iraq, and that another prisoner was killed at the Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad two months later by a private contractor working for the CIA.

The soldier - convicted by court martial - was thrown out of the service but did not serve time in jail. The official said that the soldier shot the prisoner after he had thrown stones at him. The serviceman was found to have used excessive force. No action was taken against the CIA contractor because the military had no legal jurisdiction.

A third death among the 25 being investigated was ruled a justifiable homicide, because the authorities said that it happened as the prisoner was attempting to escape.

Of the other 22 death investigations involving prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, 12 prisoners were found to have died either by natural or undetermined causes and a further 10 deaths were still being investigated.

In Britain, Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, told the Commons that of 33 investigations into deaths of Iraqi civilians or alleged ill-treatment involving British soldiers, 12 were ongoing. Twenty-one had been completed. In 15 cases there had been no case to answer and six recommendations were being considered. Eighteen of the inquiries concerned deaths.

It was reported last night that there have been 21 alleged fatalities caused by UK forces and six Iraqis have died in British military custody.

Peter Mandelson led a backlash by former ministers and Labour MPs against the Daily Mirror editor, Piers Morgan, for publishing the pictures of British soldiers allegedly carrying out abuses on an Iraqi.

Unconfirmed reports were circulating around Westminster that the photographs had been faked by a private security firm operating in Iraq with a grudge against anti-coalition media. Mr Ingram was told about the reports minutes after making a statement to the Commons in which he called on Mr Morgan to make a full disclosure of the identity of the soldiers who handed over the photographs to the newspaper.

With more details of abuses in Iraqi by Allied forces emerging every day and with so many investigations belatedly under way, there is a growing sense in Washington that it is only a matter of time before one or more senior officials or officers are forced to resign as a consequence.

Mr Rumsfeld, who other than Mr Bush holds ultimate responsibility for the military, yesterday condemned the abuse as "totally unacceptable and un-American". He said: "We're taking and will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to hold accountable those that may have violated the code of military conduct and betrayed the trust placed in them by the American people."

Yesterday Senator Edward Kennedy emerged from a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee saying he believed the allegations made public were only "the beginning rather than the end" of the abuse accusations. "This does not appear to be an isolated incident," he said.

But Mr Rumsfeld refused to admit that the abuse amounted to torture. "I'm not a lawyer," he said. "My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture."

The Bush administration has been forced to try to explain how widespread abuse was permitted at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad between October and December last year. The extent of the abuse was revealed by photographs which showed soldiers sexually humiliating hooded prisoners and intimidating them. A leaked internal report carried out by the army into the maltreatment described it as "sadistic, blatant and wanton".

Seeking to limit the damage from the scandal, the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television network yesterday: "We have a democratic system that holds people accountable for their actions."