The Observer

Army faces new claims over Iraq brutality
Lawyers weigh charges over nine fresh allegations as government faces demands for full public inquiry

Jamie Doward and Mark Townsend in Osnabrück
Sunday January 23, 2005
The Observer

The army faces a fresh series of serious allegations of abuse against its forces in Iraq, The Observer has learnt. The Ministry of Defence confirmed last night that army prosecution lawyers have completed investigations into nine separate incidents involving British soldiers serving in Iraq and are now actively considering bringing charges on the back of their inquiries.

Three of the cases concern incidents in which Iraqis were detained by British forces. Four involve the fatal shooting of Iraqis during military operations and two involve non-fatal injuries. A further 48 cases are still being investigated, while 77 cases have been examined and closed by army lawyers.

An MoD spokesman declined to give further details, but confirmed: 'Nine cases are now complete and the army prosecution authorities are examining them.'

The nine cases are in addition to the current court mar tial in Osnabrück, Germany, where three members of the Royal Fusiliers have been accused of abusing Iraqi civilians.

The revelation that more of the 9,200 soldiers serving in Iraq could face courts martial has prompted calls from human rights groups for a full public inquiry into the army's activities. They also want to know when - and to what extent - the government was aware of concerns about the abuse of Iraqis.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, which last year raised concerns about the conduct of British troops with defence ministers, said only an independent investigation could reveal the true picture.
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Referring to the court martial in Osnabrück, Allen said: 'What's really staggering is that these allegations would probably never have come to light had a soldier not taken some pictures into a high street developers' and the staff not called the police. Is that really the full extent of public scrutiny over the behaviour of our armed forces?'

Allen said it was not enough for the government to rely on the army's own inquiries into allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis civilians and soldiers.

'Complaints against the armed forces are investigated behind closed doors, by the armed forces themselves. The decision whether to pursue a case rests with the commanding officer of the accused - hardly the independent and impartial investigation that international law requires,' Allen added.

Phil Shiner, of Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers, who is representing Iraqi civilians in some 40 legal actions against the army, 10 of which involve allegations of detention and mistreatment, said he had written to the attorney-general expressing concerns that allegations of abuse might be more widespread than previously acknowledged.

Whatever the outcome of the army's investigation into the nine pending investigations, more soldiers will appear before courts martial this year, threatening further negative publicity for defence chiefs who have already seen recruitment levels drop.

Trooper Kevin Williams, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, will appear before a court martial charged with shooting dead an Iraqi civilian, while Private Alexander Johnston, of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, is to face trial accused of the unlawful wounding of a 13-year-old boy.

A number of Territorial Army soldiers who served with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment are also to face a court martial over charges that they faked photographs of Iraqi soldiers being abused, which were subsequently sold to the Mirror newspaper.

Yesterday it emerged that it was not only British and US forces that are battling abuse charges. A female intelligence officer and four military police sergeants from Denmark are to face a court martial accused of mistreating Iraqi prisoners.

The abuse is alleged to have occurred last year, when the five were stationed near Basra as part of a 500-strong contingent sent to Iraq.

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