British troops accused of abusing prisoners in first days of invasion

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence is investigating allegations that British soldiers brutally ill-treated prisoners of war captured in the first days of the invasion of Iraq.

One of the prisoners alleges that during his interrogation he was tortured because British officers thought he could lead them to Saddam Hussein. Claims of abuse committed so early on in the conflict will add to concerns that there was a deep-rooted culture of ill-treatment of Iraqis held by units of the British Army.

In the new cases seen by The Independent, two Iraqi soldiers claim they surrendered to British forces in March 2003 at the UK headquarters in Umm Qasr near the Kuwaiti border. In another case, an Iraqi civilian alleges he was tortured by British forces after being picked up in a joint operation involving UK and American soldiers as late as 2008.

Last night, a Ministry of Defence spokesman issued a statement saying that the allegations will be investigated by the newly created Iraq Historic Allegations Team. The MoD is facing more than 100 cases in which Iraqis allege they were abused and unlawfully detained by British forces between 2003 and 2008.

In a letter sent to Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, the prisoners of war, Shawkat al-Nadawi and Alaa' al-Nadawi, say they surrendered voluntarily and peacefully, and expected a "humane and respectful reception".

They say they were handcuffed in front of members of the media filming the first prisoners captured from the battlefield by British forces, but that away from the cameras they were hooded and forced to board a bus where they were struck on the backs of their heads with rifles.

When the bus stopped, they claim they were repeatedly beaten, kicked and punched. Shawkat said he felt suffocated when a soldier placed a second hood over his head.

The men allege they were then forced to kneel on sandy ground, bent forward in a stress position. "When they moved, they received kicks all over their bodies," it is claimed in the letter, sent on behalf of the men by solicitors Public Interest Lawyers.

Describing an alleged assault, Shawkat said: "He punched me like I was a punch bag while telling me how strong he was." The letter adds that the pair were made to sit in the hot sun for eight hours. Shawkat received a kick to his mouth causing his front teeth to break, leaving him badly bleeding, it is alleged. He was later taken for interrogation in a military tent.

The letter continues: "His hoods were removed and he observed a British soldier sitting ... in front of him. There was also a British interpreter present who ... asked [Shawkat] to guide the British to Saddam Hussein ... The interpreter was shouting and swearing at him."

It adds: "A military dog was brought in to where [Shawkat] was standing and this scared him to such a degree that he began to weep. When the claimant could not answer certain questions, he was kicked. For the next 10 days, the claimant was interrogated every night. When the interrogations were over, the claimant was taken to a tent where he was kept in a hooded and handcuffed state all day and all night for 20 days."

Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers, said the cases "demonstrate how from the very first operations in Iraq, British soldiers were involved in the unlawful detention and torture of Iraqi detainees."

An MoD spokesman said: "We are aware of the allegations but they are allegations – no more and no less."

Shawkat says he was held for 70 days before being given $5 and released. Five days later Alaa' was also released. Both men say they have been psychologically harmed by the experience.