Britain says it is close to deciding whether to prosecute soldiers in two cases
of alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but it has cast doubt on the authenticity
of photographs that supposedly show British troops beating an Iraqi detainee.
|Daily Mirror photo
of British soldier holding gun to Iraqi prisoner's head
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon briefed parliament on the prisoner abuse
scandal, amid growing concern the affair is undermining coalition efforts to
bring peace to Iraq.
He said British military police have investigated 33 complaints of mistreatment.
Fifteen cases have been dismissed and the others are at various stages of completion.
"I can confirm today two cases have reached an advanced stage, with decisions
on prosecutions pending. Obviously it is important that the legal processes
should be completed independently. But I want to say on behalf of the British
government that we unreservedly apologize to any Iraqis, where the evidence
shows they have been mistreated," Mr. Hoon said.
Mr. Hoon also cast new doubts on the authenticity of photos published by the
Daily Mirror newspaper that purportedly show British troops beating an Iraqi
prisoner shortly before he was allegedly thrown off of a moving truck in southern
"There are strong indications that the vehicle in which the photos were taken
was not in Iraq during the relevant period. Additional lines of inquiry are
being pursued to corroborate this fact," he added.
The photos and accompanying articles have ignited a controversy in Britain
about the conduct of British troops toward Iraqi detainees. They were published
shortly after a U.S. television network was the first to broadcast graphic
photos of U.S. military guards abusing Iraqi prisoners.
Mr. Hoon told parliament he and Prime Minister Tony Blair had only recently
seen a International Committee of the Red Cross report delivered in February
to U.S. and British officials in Iraq detailing instances of prisoner mistreatment.
That prompted the defense spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party,
Nicolas Soames, to assail the government's competence. "The government's failures
in this regard must lend further credence to the view that this is a government
that has lost its grip on its policy in Iraq," Mr. Soames said. "If the secretary
of state (Hoon) did not know about it, he most emphatically should have done
and he is unacceptably complacent and negligent in not having done so," he
Mr. Hoon played down the verbal attack. He said the report's recommendations
to Britain had already been dealt with at lower levels, including an investigation
into the death of a prisoner and the abolition of the practice of putting hoods
on prisoners' heads.