What a coincidence: soldiers carrying out torture

Until now, a notion has been peddled of a chasm between the practice of British and US forces

The leaders of the British army are apparently horrified. That's why they've made apologetic statements along the lines of "We in Britain have good cause to be proud of our armed services. In Iraq, they have helped to occupy a country on a premise proven to be entirely bogus, then seized their oil and killed 100,000 of their civilians. Sadly, now, all that good work is placed in jeopardy just because of a few hotheads."

On top of ethical issues, it can't help the morale of the army when one of them takes photos of the torture work, then takes them to be developed at the local photo shop. I suppose, as Alfred Hitchcock was aware, all master criminals make one fatal mistake. This is the sort of behaviour that could lead to the demise of the detective story. There's not much tension if Miss Marples turns up to survey a crime scene and is told: "There is one clue. The murderer appears to have taken a photo of himself committing the murder, then posted it on the internet and entered it into the photo-of-the-year competition in the Worcester Evening Telegraph."

Maybe there's something in the psychology of war that makes people carry out torture, then want the act immortalised like that. We should have another look at the Bayeux Tapestry to see if there's a section in which Saxons are piled into a pyramid and strapped to a forklift truck.

We're asked to believe that unofficial torture is extremely rare, but statistically it must be doubtful that the only time it's happened it was administered by the one regiment who couldn't wait to get everything off to the photo shop. It's more likely there were other occasions Iraqis were tortured but without such handy evidence. And one of the photos, of a soldier standing on top of an Iraqi bound in a net, is outside on a pavement.

Surely, if you felt you were doing something illegal that could land you in huge trouble, you wouldn't do it there. That's why bank robbers don't usually run out the bank with a sack of cash, then say: "I know a hideout where we can count how much we've got - right here outside on the pavement."

The British soldiers haven't quite reached the fine levels of absurdity achieved by their American colleagues. The defence lawyer for one of the Americans claimed the picture of Iraqis forcibly piled into a pyramid displayed no more than is acted out every week by "cheerleaders". If only someone had recorded sound on those images, it would have been clear, as they must have all been singing: "Who's the boys who torture best: M-A-R-I-N-E-S"; and the wires were only used because in Iraq there's an acute shortage of pom-poms.

Also, in a cute touch, it turns out that two of the accused Americans are in love, and are having a baby conceived in Iraq. Hopefully, they've sold the story to Mills and Boon, as it would touch the heart of the hardest cynic: "As Lynndie attached the electrodes, she took a moment to look at the fingers of her colleague, as he tightened the rope. They were masculine, yet delicate, firm but generous, as they wistfully bound the prisoner to a chair. Noticing her glances, he smiled warmly. 'You have beautiful eyes,' he said. 'You'll have to speak up,' she answered, nervously. 'I can't hear you over all this screaming.'"

Up until now, a notion has been peddled of a chasm between the practice of British and American forces. Theirs are undisciplined and trigger-happy while ours are traditionally thoughtful and restrained, or to put it another way - British. At the very least, we'd stop torturing in the afternoon to break for scones. Or allow the prisoners to take off their hoods once an hour to catch up with the score in the Test match.

But the behaviour in the photos seems to happen every time. In Ireland, there was proven torture. In the Falklands, the 3rd Paras severed ears of their victims to take home as trophies. The details differ, but the process is the same. Because a war of occupation inevitably provokes massive opposition, so the population becomes at first mistrusted, and eventually regarded as sub-human, back to the very British concept that slaves could be tortured as they were brutes who possessed no souls.

Otherwise it would be quite a coincidence that, in almost every war, soldiers seem to torture civilians, whereas this problem rarely arises with any other profession. If, every few years, fishmongers were caught dragging people into a back room and pulling them round on a lead, someone might inquire as to whether there was something inherent in the job that was causing this.

Instead, the accused soldiers must have been so comfortable with their actions that, when the person in the photo shop first pointed out how dreadful the photos were, they probably replied: "Oh, I know - that bloke I forced to simulate sex has come out all red-eyed, and on this one I've almost missed the top of the hood altogether."

I suppose it's just lucky that Blunkett's no longer in the Cabinet. He'd have got the one of the bloke strapped to the forklift truck and gone: "This is exactly what we need for teenagers who spray graffiti."

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