Britain’s Abu Ghraib: Did Britain Collude with US in Abuse of Iraqis?

By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor
Independent | 14 November 2009

Claims that British soldiers recreated the torture conditions of Abu Ghraib to commit the sexual and physical abuse of Iraqi civilians are being investigated by the Ministry of Defence.

The fresh allegations raise important questions about collusion between Britain and America over the ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners during the insurgency. In one case, British soldiers are accused of piling bodies of Iraqi prisoners on top of each other and subjecting them to electric shocks, an echo of the abuse at the notorious US detention centre at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

One claimants says he as raped by two British soldiers, and others say they were stripped naked, abused and photographed. For the first time, British female soldiers are accused of aiding in the sexual and physical abuse of detainees.

The 33 new cases, which form part of a pre-action protocol letter served on the MoD last week, include allegations of other torture techniques widely employed by the Americans, including mock executions, dog attacks and exposure to pornography.

In one of the most disturbing cases, Nassir Ghulaim, a young Iraqi, says his torture was based on the photographs taken from Abu Ghraib. He says he was playing football with friends in April 2007 when he was approached by British soldiers in Jeeps. Their interpreter told two of the Iraqis the soldiers wanted them to go with them to a British base.

When he arrived at the camp his blindfold was removed and he was surrounded by six to eight soldiers, he says. "The soldiers asked us to pick fights with one another, or fight them. The soldiers were laughing and taking photos. The soldiers then made us squeeze together in a pile, while a soldier stood on top of us and shouted and laughed."

Mr Ghulaim says the soldiers then forced a younger Iraqi male to strip naked and started playing with his penis and taking photographs. When Mr Ghulaim refused to fight, a soldier kicked him hard on his back and he fell on the floor. "A soldier started hitting me with a baton on my knees and used an electric baton on various parts of my body," he adds. After three days of detention, Mr Ghulaim was freed without charge.

Hussain Hashim Khinyab, 35, who has three children, was arrested in April 2006. He claims that he was badly tortured at the British camp at Shaaibah and later sexually abused by female personnel. He alleges that when he was moved from solitary confinement to the camp's detention halls he saw male and female soldiers engaging in sexual intercourse in front of the prisoners. He says this was done to deliberately humiliate the inmates.

In May 2003, a 16-year-old Iraqi was among a group of Iraqis taken to the Shatt-al-Arab British camp to help fill sandbags. When the Iraqi youth, who wishes to remain anonymous, and his friends had filled the available sandbags, a British soldier indicated that he should enter a room, from where he assumed that he was to retrieve more sand bags, he says.

On entering the room, he claims he saw two British male soldiers engaged in oral sex. As soon as the two men saw him enter, they started to beat and kick him, he alleges. When he fell to the floor, one of the men held a blade to his neck while the other soldier stripped him naked. Although he screamed in protest, the two British soldiers, one after the other, raped him.

In the legal letter to the MoD, Phil Shiner, the lawyer representing all the Iraqis, said: "Due to the wider access of information and disclosure in the US, we do know that sexual humiliation was authorised as an aid to interrogation at the highest levels of the US administration. Given the history of the UK's involvement in the development of these techniques alongside the US, it is deeply concerning that there appears to be strong similarities between instances of the use of sexual humiliation."

Mazin Younis, a leading Iraqi human rights activist working in the UK, said a lot of the new cases he had seen included allegations of sexual humiliation techniques which were part of what he said was a wider culture of abuse. He added: "This is very similar to what was happening at Abu Ghraib and was clearly employed to try to break the will of the detainees. Hundreds of soldiers must have witnessed this abuse but must either think this was acceptable behaviour or were told by their superiors to turn a blind eye."

Mr Shiner says that the new cases became known after the British withdrawal from Iraq this year. He added: "Many of these Iraqis were frightened to come forward and only now have been able to gather the courage to do so. That is no mean feat given what they have been through."

An MoD spokesperson said: "Over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment. There have been instances when individuals have behaved badly but only a tiny number have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards.

"Allegations of this nature are taken very seriously but must not be taken as fact. Formal investigations must be allowed to take their course without judgements being made prematurely."

In London, the public inquiry continues to hear more evidence into the death of 26-year-old hotel receptionist Baha Mousa, who was beaten to death by British soldiers in 2003. A post-mortem revealed that he had sustained 93 different injuries.

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