Abuse claims raise pressure on British govt

The British government was tonight under pressure to reveal how long it has known about claims of British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners.

The British government was tonight under pressure to reveal how long it has known about claims of British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners.

The Conservatives demanded that Britain's Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon tells MPs when the allegations were first raised with ministers and what action they took.

The demand comes after the Red Cross said it had warned US officials of abuse of prisoners in Iraq – including some in British-controlled Basra – more than a year ago.

Shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames said it would be a matter of the “gravest concern” if the Red Cross had raised the issue with the British government “quite some time ago”.

“Number 10, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Office must say whether or not these questions were indeed raised with them and what actions were subsequently taken,” he said.

“The Secretary of State for Defence must come to the House of Commons on Monday to make a full and detailed statement on this and other matters relating to investigations by the Royal Military Police into the allegations made by the Daily Mirror and others.”

A leaked Red Cross report, confirmed as genuine by the agency, described prisoners kept naked in total darkness in empty cells at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison – under US-control – and male prisoners forced to parade around in women’s underwear.

Coalition forces also fired on unarmed prisoners from watchtowers, killing some of them.

In another episode, nine men were arrested in Basra and beaten severely, leading to one death, it added.

The British Ministry of Defence said yesterday it could not discuss the Red Cross report because it was confidential.

But a spokesman said: “We work very closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“We take our obligations under the Geneva Convention and international law very seriously. The report by the ICRC was an interim report and we acted on its recommendations.”

Mr Soames’ comments come as more allegations of British troops abusing Iraqi prisoners and taking “trophy photos” emerged.

A fourth soldier apparently told his story to the Daily Mirror.

The newspaper today carried a front page picture allegedly provided by a soldier from the troubled Queen’s Lancashire Regiment showing a soldier photographing a bound captive with bloodied teeth in the back of an armoured personnel carrier.

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday apologised for his troops’ “fundamentally un-American” abuse of Iraqi prisoners and warned that more horrific pictures of mistreatment were still to come.

Meanwhile in Iraq British troops quelled an attack in Basra by hundreds of Iraqi militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The fighting broke out this morning in Iraq’s second city a day after a representative of al-Sadr offered money for the capture or killing of coalition soldiers.

The British Ministry of Defence confirmed three British soldiers were hurt in the clashes but said none of the injuries were life-threatening. Two Iraqis had been killed and one had been captured.

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