Sharon O'Neill
Irish News

After the publication of pictures purporting to show British
soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, comparisons have been drawn with
the army's conduct in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Chief
Reporter Sharon O'Neill reports.

Within the next two weeks more British soldiers from Northern
Ireland will fly to Iraq amid a deepening controversy over the
alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners which shows no sign of abating.

The US military has filed criminal charges against six of its
soldiers accused of abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraid jail, Baghdad,
and a number of senior personnel have been reprimanded.

The action was taken after pictures showing the torture and
humiliation of Iraqi prisoners were beamed across the world. Now the
British army is in the dock facing similar accusations of

The publication of photographs showing the alleged abuse of Iraqis
at the hands of British personnel has sparked a political and
military crisis.

The Ministry of Defence has launched an investigation into the
pictures, one of which appears to show a hooded and bound Iraqi
prisoner being mistreated.

Shortly after the pictures were published in a British tabloid
newspaper, military personnel raised questions about their
authenticity, although the soldiers who took the pictures reportedly
insist that they are genuine.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said that if the images were authentic the
torture would be "totally unacceptable".

Soldiers from Northern Ireland are due to fly out to Iraq for escort
and guard duties within the next few weeks.

Thirty-five part-time soldiers from the Territorial Army's Royal
Irish Rangers are to travel to the city of Basra – the scene of
continuing serious violence.

A British army spokesman confirmed that 208 personnel from Northern
Ireland had been "mobilised" to Iraq, including those in training
and other staff from medics to infantry soldiers.

Amid the torture allegations comparisons have been drawn with the
British army's conduct in Northern Ireland – particularly during the
early years of the Troubles.

Former internee Paddy Joe McClean's victory in a landmark human
rights case against the British government more than 30 years ago is
testament to the fact that the security forces have committed abuse
of the type alleged in Iraq.

In the early 1970s the former chairman of the Northern Ireland Civil
Rights Association – now a member of Omagh District Policing
Partnership – was hooded, deprived of sleep, subjected to continual
noise and starved while interned at Belfast's Crumlin Road jail.

The Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found his jailers guilty of
torture and the British government was ordered to pay out thousands
of pounds in compensation.

Mr McClean said he believed the Iraq photographs to be authentic.

"I accept that various interests will go to all lengths to defend
what happened once they are exposed," he said.

"In our case that was the British government. Whilst they paid us
compensation, they never accepted responsibility. That is the key
issue and that is the ultimate cover-up of governments.

"I have a number of thoughts on the photographs. I am surprised that
people do not understand that this is what soldiers do. That happens
all the time. All armies will do that – history is full of instances
of that.

"In relation to our own experiences, we were fortunate that there
was such a thing as the Geneva Convention of Human Rights because
after the Second World War the different European countries came
together to defend what would be legal and what wouldn't be.

"Under the terms of that convention armies were supposed to behave
in a defined way. If they didn't do that there was recourse for
people like me who could go to the international court in Strasbourg
and have our case heard and that did happen so that we had redress
against the excesses of the armies.

"As you know in the hooded case of which there were 12, we were
successful in bringing the British government to book. They were
found guilty of inhuman degrading treatment against detainees. That
avenue is not open to the people in Guantamano Bay for example,
because the greatest and largest superpower in the world, the United
States, don't subscribe to any form of international convention on
the human rights of detainees.

"In fact the Americans have gone further because they have
designated Guantamano Bay in Cuba as a no-man's land where no law
applies so that the detainees there have no redress at all. That is

After the pictures were published General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of
the General Staff in the British army, said any soldier who abused
Iraqi prisoners was "not fit to wear the Queen's uniform".

Human Rights Group the Pat Finucane Centre pointed out that Sir Mike
had sat on the army board which ruled that Mark Wright and James
Fisher could remain in the military despite their convictions for
the murder of north Belfast teenager Peter McBride in 1992.

SDLP North Belfast assembly member Alban Maginness said he believed
the Iraq photographs to be genuine.

"It is a matter to be resolved but they seem to me to be fairly
realistic. We should not be sending any more (military personnel to
Iraq) and we shouldn't be sending any local soldiers to a situation
that is fraught with difficulty and where there are controversial
circumstances to be investigated," he said.

"The Iraqi people should be listened to. The council in Iraq has
effectively been ignored in terms of its counsel to the Americans
and to the British.

"The UN should ultimately be involved in any sort of decision making
as far as that is concerned."

Ulster Unionist Policing Board member Fred Cobain said the
authenticity of the pictures was not the issue.

"My view is the same as everyone. People who are guilty of abusing
prisoners need to be caught and dealt with," he said.

"I don't know whether they (the pictures) are genuine or not. That
is not the issue. If people are being mistreated by British
soldiers, that issue has to be dealt with.

"I am anti-war. The difficulty is, how are the coalition going to
extract themselves from Iraq and leave themselves some sort of
democratic system behind them? It is a total mess at the minute."

Sinn Féin North Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly said the debate
over the abuse of prisoners was nothing new.

"Sinn Féin told both the British and American governments that the
invasion in Iraq was wrong. We predicted that the outcome would be
more misery and death and greater political instability," he said.

"The maltreatment of prisoners in Iraq comes as no surprise, given
our experiences of occupying forces here in this part of Ireland.

"Whatever the veracity of the pictures currently circulating,
nationalists living in this part of Ireland have direct experience
of not just the approach of the British army as an occupying force
but also their treatment of prisoners.

"You only have to look at the cases of the hooded men where the
British government was found guilty in the European Court of Human
Rights of inhumane and degrading treatment to see evidence of how
the British army has behaved here."

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland said
he feared that the pictures would "exacerbate an already fragile

"The prison was notorious under Saddam Hussein. It should not be
allowed to become so again. Iraq has lived under the shadow of
torture for far too long," he said.

"The coalition leadership must send a clear signal that torture will
not be tolerated under any circumstances and that the Iraqi people
can now live free of such brutal and degrading practices."

May 10, 2004

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