Shocking new evidence of brutality by coalition troops against Iraqi detainees emerged last night in a secret US military report into the treatment of prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
The revelation that US military police and intelligence officers had beaten Iraqi detainees, set dogs on them and threatened them with rape came as the world recoiled at photographs of British soldiers seemingly mistreating Iraqis in custody. The sight of servicemen humiliating and tormenting a bound and hooded Iraqi prisoner caused fury in the Arab world and brought condemnation from Tony Blair.
Ill-treatment of prisoners, if proved true, was "completely and utterly unacceptable", the Prime Minister said. He added: "We went to Iraq to get rid of that type of thing, not to do it. In fairness, however, we should say that there are thousands of British troops in Iraq doing a very brave and extraordinary job on behalf of the Iraqi people and on behalf of our country."
The photographs are now under close scrutiny by the Royal Military Police. Last night there were reports circulating, apparently from sources close to the regiment concerned, that the pictures are not genuine.
They surfaced two days after pictures were published of laughing US service personnel humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. But a 53-page report, obtained by the renowned US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and published in the forthcoming issue of The New Yorker magazine, makes it clear that the mistreatment went much further than that shown in the photographs.
The report into the military prison system in Iraq, by Major General Antonio Taguba, said there were "sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib, and listed some of them: "Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees ... beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape ... sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees ... and in one instance actually biting a detainee."
Gen Taguba's report makes it clear that far from being isolated actions by low-level personnel,intelligence interrogators encouraged the military police to "soften up" detainees. He recommended disciplinary action for at least two senior officers apart from Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, whose suspension as chief of military prisons in Iraq was revealed after the photographs were published last week.
The shaming news about British and American abuses in Iraq follows Robert Fisk's revelation in The Independent on Sunday in January that a Basra hotel receptionist, Baha Mousa, had died in British military custody. Possible manslaughter charges are being considered by the military authorities, who are still investigating six other deaths.
Such incidents, worsening local hostility against occupation forces, are increasing pressure on Mr Blair not to embroil British troops any more deeply in Iraq.
Privately, Mr Blair is being urged by military experts not to deploy British troops in the parts of Iraq now under US control, in case they become caught up in the violence, which could then spread to the southern zone around Basra policed by the British.
The warnings have been echoed by Air Marshal Sir Tim Garden, a former RAF deputy chief of staff named yesterday as a Liberal Democrat life peer. "Certainly, the chiefs of staff would be saying, 'Hold on, we're doing what we're doing - let's stick to that'," Sir Tim told The Independent on Sunday. Asked about the possibility of Britain taking on duties in the former Spanish zone, Mr Blair said it was "under review".
Meanwhile, the Government has banned ministers and other VIPs from visiting Iraq, to avoid the risk of a high-profile kidnapping. Tony Blair's human rights envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd MP, confirmed she is among those forbidden to travel. She said: "I hope to get back in a fortnight, but we shall have to see."Reuse content