'Britain's Abu Ghraib': troops face torture evidence in courts martial

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Photographs of British troops allegedly torturing Iraqi prisoners and forcing them to perform sexual acts will serve as key and potentially damning evidence in the courts martial of four soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers which open in Germany today.

The four are charged with assault and indecent assault for alleged incidents at a warehouse in Iraq in 2003 which have been described as "Britain's Abu Ghraib". They face imprisonment and dismissal from the armed forces if convicted.

Fusilier Gary Bartlam, 19, will be court-martialled at the regiment's base at Hohne, about 30 miles north-east of Hanover, today. The courts martial of Corporal Daniel Kenyon and Lance Corporals Darren Larkin and Mark Cooley will follow at Osnabrück on Wednesday.

Fusilier Bartlam, from Dordon in Warwickshire, was arrested in Britain in summer 2003. Staff at a photographic store in Staffordshire tipped off police after they were disturbed by so-called "trophy snaps" of the soldier's time in Iraq that he had asked them to develop.

The 25 pictures are reported to show one soldier standing on an Iraqi prisoner who appears to be lying in a pool of blood. Another allegedly shows a gagged Iraqi hanging from the arms of a fork-lift truck controlled by a grinning British soldier. The prisoner is cut down and shown falling heavily. Others are reported to show a soldier preparing to kick the head of an Iraqi lying on the ground. Others are alleged to show Iraqis being forced to perform sexual acts with each other and on a soldier.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the photos would be used as evidence but it was not clear whether they would be released for publication.

The MoD has banned photographers from attending this week's courts martial. "There is a long-standing ban on photography or filming around military courts," the ministry said.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, confirmed last year that 75 investigations had been launched into allegations of soldiers' mistreatment of Iraqis. Thirty-six cases involved the deaths of prisoners. They include the cases of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist who died of injuries after being arrested by soldiers from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment and that of Abd al-Jubba Mousa, 53, a head teacher in Basra who died after he was allegedly beaten with rifle butts by Black Watch soldiers in May 2003.

A Red Cross investigation at the same time showed there had been "systematic abuse" of prisoners and revealed that British soldiers had stamped on the neck of a man who died in their custody. MPs have criticised the Government for the "extensive delays in investigating allegations of abuse, brutality and humiliation".

The only published pictures purporting to show British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners were printed by the Daily Mirror last year. They turned out to be fakes.