New allegations of systematic abuse of Iraqis by British troops

Five new witnesses to testify against Queen's Lancashires. US military investigates eight suspected prison murders
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The Independent Online

Evidence that soldiers of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment carried out systematic torture of Iraqi civilians under the direction of an officer is to be put before the High Court, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Five Iraqis arrested with Baha Mousa, the Basra hotel receptionist who allegedly died in detention after three days of beatings by QLR troops, have given detailed witness statements about their ordeal. Their evidence - given exclusively to the IoS - will undermine claims that abuses of Iraqi civilians were carried out by "rogue" members of the regiment.

However, there were reports last night that British and American soldiers would be granted immunity from prosecution in Iraq after the handover of power on 30 June.

Lawyers and Amnesty International claim the witness statements show that officers were overseeing systematic ill-treatment and abuse of detainees as an interrogation technique. Lesley Warner, the media director for Amnesty UK, said yesterday: "The beatings were reportedly conducted in the presence of officers and in some cases officers actually took part. These reports are particularly serious and underline the need for a full, independent inquiry. Those responsible must be brought to justice." The Ministry of Defence would not comment on the statements, saying the case was still under investigation.

The emergence of the testimony has come after Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces minister, admitted last week that three further allegations of unlawful killings by British forces are being investigated, including the first allegations against the Royal Air Force Regiment. The RAF police is investigating the death of Tanik S Mahmud, an Iraqi prisoner of war who died in custody in April 2003 on board a military helicopter.

Mr Ingram also disclosed that a death in March 2003, involving a man named only as Mr Zaher, was under investigation. The third inquiry involves the shooting dead of a man celebrating a wedding, Ghanim Gatteh - a case revealed by the IoS last month.

Last Friday, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, revealed he had asked the Crown Prosecution Service to review a case of alleged murder by a British soldier because the MoD admitted it could not be dealt with under military law. The Royal Military Police has already recommended that soldiers face charges over the death of Mr Mousa, and senior military officials have confirmed that charges are "imminent". But the possible involvement of the CPS is thought to have delayed a final announcement.

The fresh evidence will add to the growing scandal of abuse in Iraq and elsewhere. The Pentagon revealed yesterday that the US military is carrying out another eight investigations into suspected murders of prisoners in custody. The causes of death, which have all been classed as homicides, include multiple gunshot wounds, strangulation and "blunt-force injuries". This take to 37 the number of suspicious deaths of detainees by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002.

The worst abuses are alleged to have occurred in a detention centre run by the elite Delta Force near Baghdad airport. Senior US officials claimed some of the "most egregious violations" of the Geneva Convention took place in the facility, known simply as BIF, some miles from the already notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

The revelations come after more than 40 Iraqis at a wedding party, including children, were killed in a US air strike near the Syrian border. Military chiefs continue to insist the attack was justified by "credible intelligence", despite video footage, so far unpublished, that appears to show a devastated wedding celebration.

In a further blow to the Pentagon, a former US Marine reveals today in the IoS that soldiers in his unit routinely killed innocent civilians and desecrated corpses. Meanwhile, another member of the Iraqi Governing Council was targeted by insurgents linked to al-Qa'ida yesterday. Abdul-Jabbah Youssef al-Sheikhli, a deputy interior minister, received head and chest injuries in a suicide car-bomb attack that killed at least five.

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