UK troops 'beat relatives of Camp Breadbasket captives'

Kim Sengupta
Sunday 27 February 2005 01:00 GMT

Relatives of Iraqis tortured by British soldiers revealed last night how they were also arrested and brutally beaten simply for asking questions.

Relatives of Iraqis tortured by British soldiers revealed last night how they were also arrested and brutally beaten simply for asking questions.

The Independent on Sunday can reveal that the Iraqi civilians were punched and kicked after arriving at Camp Breadbasket to find out why friends and relatives had been detained.

The disclosures came as the Attorney General called for reforms of the military justice system, and shortly after three Royal Regiment of Fusiliers soldiers were jailed for abusing detainees.

The friends' and relatives' worries had grown through the day, as their loved ones failed to return from Camp Breadbasket, on the outskirts of Basra. The anxieties increased even more as gunshots were heard from the vast sprawling aid depot.

It was not until after 5.30pm that a group of people made the journey of just over one mile from their tenement homes in the Guzezih district to the sandbagged front gates of the camp. They found, they say, scenes of violence, fear and confusion.

Muthanar Jaseem Mahmud, 22, was crouching on the ground, blood pouring from his head, holding one broken distended arm with another. This was the result, he claims, of being beaten with a metal rod. Others were limping around, victims of a day of severe beatings and abuse which had been undertaken by troops engaged in Operation Ali Baba to hunt looters of precious humanitarian supplies.

As Muthanar's mother cried, holding him in her arms, his father frantically tried to find a car to take him to hospital.

But when his brother, Akil Jassem, tried to find out from British soldiers and Iraqi police what had happened, he was, he says, arrested and dragged inside. There, he claims, he was subjected to beating and kicking for several hours.

"We found Muthanar outside the camp," said Akil Jassem. "He had been badly beaten. I saw some Iraqi police and British soldiers and asked who had done this. I told them this was unjustified.

"One of the British soldiers suddenly got very angry and dragged me into the camp. A group of soldiers came up and started beating us with sticks and kicking us. I was kicked on the face and back very hard and my face swelled up."

Kardham Louai Jubarra, 32, says he suffered the same fate. He had gone to Breadbasket to find some friends.

"I saw Akil and told him to stay calm and not get angry," he said. "I thought the situation was very dangerous. He was arrested and taken away and then I was as well. They made me run and then started hitting me with some kind of metal rods. When I fell, one of them kept kicking me and another jumped on my arm."

These fresh allegations, made to The Independent on Sunday, will be tested in a fresh inquiry ordered by the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Mike Jackson, into what exactly took place on that day in May 2003 at the camp.

Four soliders have just been convicted and imprisoned over the offences at a court martial in Osnabruck, Germany. "Trophy photographs" of the abuse, including those of sexual humiliation taken by one soldier, were released during the trial and posted on the internet, causing shock in Britain and triggering anger in Iraq and the wider Arab world.

Gen Jackson apologised yesterday for the abuse suffered and said that lessons needed to be learnt. Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, said he was "profoundly disturbed" by what had happened.

With the scandal refusing to die down, it emerged that Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, is pressing for major reforms of the military justice system.

The new investigation will examine why, despite a supposedly exhaustive inquiry lasting months by the Royal Military Police, crucial evidence from the victims, either written or spoken, was missing from the court martial.

The Independent on Sunday has now heard claims that the abuse at Breadbasket went much further than was disclosed during the court martial. There the prosecution had mentioned mistreatment, confined to looters, and lasting just a few hours in the morning.

But if these men are to be believed, it went on for most of the day and involved people such as Akil Jaseem and Kardham Louai Jubarra, who were not even in the camp. Muthanar, who was there after being arrested, insists he was carrying out normal work for the Trade Ministry.

Last night, Lord Goldsmith revealed he had asked the head of Britain's armed forces to give military prosecutors a far greater role in overseeing the most complex and serious cases. At present the Royal Military Police are usually required to get permission from army commanders before opening a case and senior officers can stop their investigations at any time. Lord Goldsmith and opposition MPs believe the inquiry ordered by Sir Mike Jackson should be wide-ranging and review the entire military investigation system.

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