Saturday, July 31, 2004

Troops 'took turns' beating Iraqi detainees, court told

LONDON (AFP,Wed Jul 28,2004 - British troops took turns abusing a group of Iraqi detainees, dousing them in cold water, kickboxing them against a wall and ordering them to "dance like Michael Jackson," one of the detainees said in a chilling statement read out in a London court.

Kifah Taha al-Mutari's graphic allegations emerged at the start of a three-day High Court hearing in London into whether independent inquiries should be called into the alleged deaths of Iraqi civilians at the hands of British troops based in southern Iraq (news - web sites).

Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites)'s government -- which denies any systematic abuse of Iraqi detainees -- has refused to convene such inquiries, which could potentially open the way to criminal prosecutions of British troops in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq in March last year.

Mutari was among a group of hotel workers detained at the Darul Dhyafa military base near Basra, in British-occupied southern Iraq -- one of whom, Baha Mousa, 26, died in custody in September 2003.

His statement was read in court by lawyer Rabinder Singh, representing the families of Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by British forces.

Mutari alleged that he and his fellow detainees were beaten on the neck, chest and genital areas, and that "Baha appeared to have much worse ill-treatment than the others".

He said all the detainees were hooded, not once but twice, and "given water by it being poured over the hood so that we had to lick the droplets that seeped through the hood".

"Soldiers took turns in abusing us," he added. "At night the number of soldiers increased, sometimes to eight at a time."

He also described a sadistic "names game" played by the soldiers.

"Soldiers would mention some English names of stars or (football) players and request us to remember them, or we would be beaten severely," he alleged.

"One terrible game the soldiers played involved kickboxing," Mutari added. "The soldiers would surround us and compete as to who could kickbox one of us the furthest. The idea was to try and make us crash into the wall."

In yet another instance, he said, he and his fellow detainees were ordered by a British soldier "to dance like Michael Jackson", the American pop superstar.

Besides the Mousa case, the hearings centre on the deaths of four Iraqis allegedly gunned down by members of the King's Own Regiment, and the death of a police commissioner by a soldier in the Queen's Lancashire Regiment -- the same regiment implicated in Mousa's death.

Mutari was in London for the start of the High Court hearings, along with Mousa's father, a former colonel in Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s police who Tuesday denounced his son's death as "horrendous".

Military police have opened a total of 75 investigations into claims that British troops had killed, injured or abused Iraqi civilians, of which 37 were dismissed, 30 remain in progress and eight are awaiting conclusions.

"Every allegation has to be investigated thoroughly and all evidence produced then needs careful consideration," a defence ministry spokeswoman told AFP on Wednesday.

"The investigations cover a range of incidents and it would be quite wrong to conclude that the UK armed forces have been involved in systematic human rights abuse."

In arguing for inquiries, lawyer Singh cited the European Convention of Human Rights, saying that it extends to British troops serving in southern Iraq.

He said it was up to the High Court to rule whether the British government has a duty to ensure an effective, independent investigation into the circumstances in which Iraqis have died.



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