Reuters | Feb. 22, 2008
Lawyers for five Iraqis have accused British soldiers of mass executions and torture and called for a police investigation into an "atrocious episode" in British army history.
Phil Shiner and Martyn Day, who have brought several cases against the British military for its actions in Iraq, produced statements on Friday from five men who say they were detained by British forces after a battle in southern Iraq in May 2004.
The men, who were blindfolded and bound, said their captors repeatedly beat and abused them, including forcing them to strip naked. While detained, they said they heard the systematic torture and execution of up to 20 other detainees.
"On the basis of the evidence currently available, we are of the view that our clients' allegations -- that the British were responsible for the torture and deaths of up to 20 Iraqis -- may well be true," Day told a news conference.
"Whether or not there is enough evidence to prosecute individual soldiers, it will only be by an open public inquiry that this question will be answered."
The military has already conducted its own investigation into the events surrounding the intense, two-hour battle between British troops and Iraqi insurgents, in which it says 28 Iraqi fighters were killed, and concluded there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
Shiner and Day say, on the basis of the witness statements and other evidence, that 29 people were detained, of whom 20 were killed in detention and nine were later freed.
A second investigation, also by Britain's military police, was opened last December after the families of some of the victims called for a judicial review. It is not known when that investigation will be concluded.
As well as the witness statements, Shiner and Day produced photos, video footage and death certificates signed by Iraqi doctors that they said together painted a picture of violent, deadly abuse perpetrated by British troops.
They said there was evidence that two detainees had their eyes gouged out, one had his penis cut off, several were strangled or mutilated, some were shot in the back of the head and others had body parts systematically broken.
"What went on whilst UK forces had the custody of Iraqi civilians is a disgrace, a stain on our nation, and a terrible stain on the reputation of all the good soldiers who have operated in Iraq," Shiner said.
However, the lawyers acknowledged there was a vast gulf between the British military's account of what happened and the witnesses' accounts. They also said they did not know which regiment of the British army was most likely responsible.
"For the Iraqi version of events to be true, soldiers and officers from the British army would have to have conspired to cover up one of the most atrocious episodes in British army history," Day said.
As well as a public inquiry, the lawyers called for the investigation to be handed over to Britain's regular police force, rather than the military police investigating its own. (Editing by Alison Williams)