Times of India

Accused British soldiers face trial

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A handout photograph, issued on January 18, 2005, that is to be used as evidence in a court martial in Osnabrueck, purports to show Lance corporal Darren Larkin standing on an Iraqi detainee. (Reuters photo)

A British court martial prosecuting soldiers accused of abuse released photographs on Tuesday that apparently show British troops forcing Iraqi prisoners to simulate sex acts.

The pictures discovered when lab technicians phoned the police after a soldier took them to be developed, could damage the reputation of Britain's military, much as photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison hurt the United States.

Three British soldiers pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to numerous counts of abuse, although one admitted assaulting a man. The court martial was held in Germany, where the troops are based.

In one picture, a male prisoner is apparently forced to kneel in front of a naked man and simulate oral sex. In another, one male prisoner kneels naked on another's lap.

In London, General Sir Mike Jackson, the army's top officer, said that the military could not comment directly on the case during the trial. But he took the rare step of making a televised statement moments before the images were broadcast.

"We condemn utterly all acts of abuse. Where there is evidence of abuse, this is immediately investigated," he said.

At least one picture shows a soldier appearing to stomp on a man lying prone on the ground. Another picture shows a soldier punching, or simulating punching, a bound man. In yet another picture, a bound prisoner is tied to the prongs of a forklift truck.

Lance corporals Darren Larkin and Mark Cooley and Corporal Daniel Kenyon - all from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers - denied charges which included disgraceful conduct and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Larkin admitted one charge of assaulting an Iraqi man and faces a sentence of up to six months in prison.

Prosecutors say the men carried out the offences during an operation code-named 'Ali Baba' to stop looting at an aid food depot in the chaotic weeks after the US-led invasion of Iraq.

The trial is the latest in a series of hearings against US and British soldiers after photographs of abuse by US troops at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail emerged, sparking global outrage.

A US military court sentenced Charles Graner, the ringleader at Abu Ghraib, to 10 years' in prison last weekend.

Unlike the Abu Ghraib scandal, the trial of the three British soldiers concerns one incident and has not sparked allegations of systematic abuse.

Prosecutor Nick Clapham said the abuses occurred after the commander of a huge warehouse complex near the southern Iraqi city of Basra known as 'Camp Breadbasket' formed a plan to stop persistent looting of humanitarian food stores.

Under the plan, troops were to round up looters who were "to be worked hard" to repair damage and deter further pilfering.

Such an order was against international law, which prevents civilians from being detained and forced to work, but the soldiers' actions went far beyond it, Clapham said.

"In no way did that order envisage conduct of the type you have heard," he told the court.

All the accused had served together in a section led by Kenyon, who was charged with aiding and abetting others to force the detainees to simulate sexual acts and with failing to report the offences to higher officers.

Larkin pleaded not guilty to disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind by making two detainees undress in front of others but admitted assaulting a man by standing on him.

Cooley is accused of pretending to kick and punch detainees, while they were photographed and of suspending one bound man on a forklift truck.

Most of the charges carry maximum prison sentences of two years as well as dishonourable discharge from the army.

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