Tabloid claims abuse by British troops

Front page photo shows man in British uniform urinating on a prisoner

Crisis In Iraq

May 02, 2004|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Britain's tabloid newspapers have not been squeamish about showing some of the more ghastly images of the war in Iraq. Corpses and bloodied victims of bombings have been common on their front pages.

But of all the carnage shown since the war began, photographs published yesterday in The Daily Mirror, a national daily with a circulation of nearly 2 million, may do more harm to the coalition efforts to calm Iraq than all those published before.

The photographs - which have not been authenticated - show what appears to be an Iraqi prisoner being kicked, beaten with a rifle and urinated on by British soldiers.

Whether authentic or staged, the photographs have been broadcast by the British Broadcast Corp, Arab satellite news channels, including al-Jazeera, and other stations around the world.

Islamic leaders who opposed the war condemned the photographs as emblematic of abuses by coalition soldiers and general hostility by the West toward Muslims. They say that in addition to thousands of Iraqi civilians who may have been killed during the war in Iraq, the pictures show the brutality of the occupiers.

"There is enough evidence of atrocities - of thousands of civilians being killed, including women and children - that we believe these pictures are true," said Anjem Choudary, deputy director of Al-Muhajiroun in London, an Islamic group operating in at least 15 countries and which advocates for Islamic law throughout the world. "The veil has been lifted for the world to see how the occupiers are treating Iraqis."

His group is calling for protests Tuesday in response to the pictures. Tomorrow is a holiday in Britain.

Reaction from British officials has been to condemn the actions shown in the photographs while emphasizing that whether they were staged for propaganda purposes cannot be discounted.

"If there has been any abuse, I believe it to be exceptional, but that doesn't make it any the less unacceptable," Prime Minister Tony Blair told Sky News from Dublin, Ireland, where he was attending ceremonies marking the expansion of the European Union.

A spokeswoman for The Mirror, Sarah Vaughan-Brown, said the photographs were obtained from one of the attackers and another British soldier under condition that they would not be identified.

"We've carried out our own checks and have no doubts as to their authenticity," she said. She would not discuss what the checks involved but said the photographs were obtained in the course of an investigation into alleged abuses by British soldiers that had been under way for weeks.

The Mirror's front page was devoted to a photograph showing a man in a British military uniform urinating on an Iraqi whose head is covered in a burlap sack, sitting on the floor in underwear and a torn T-shirt.

Photographs inside the newspaper, spread over four pages, show a man in a British uniform apparently striking the Iraqi's groin with a rifle. Another shows a rifle pointed at the prisoner's head and another shows a boot apparently being thrust into his mouth. Blood is shown soaking through the burlap.

None of the pictures show the faces of the men in uniform.

Arab television stations have been airing the pictures, published three days after CBS News aired photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, throughout the Middle East, including in Iraq.

The news reports couple the British pictures with those CBS aired, which at least one U.S. soldier has acknowledged as authentic. Those pictures showed U.S. soldiers taunting naked Iraqis, and one Iraqi prisoner apparently hooked up to wires and forced to stand on a crate. According to CBS, he was told if he moved from the crate, he would be electrocuted.

President Bush condemned the photographs and said those soldiers found to be guilty of mistreating Iraqi prisoners would be punished.

British officials, too, said an investigation is under way.

The Mirror said that the Iraqi prisoner in the photographs was 18 to 20 years old and that in addition to beating him, at one point a British soldier stuck the barrel of a gun into his mouth.

The newspaper, which has campaigned against the war, reported that the young man was beaten for eight hours, suffered a broken jaw and missing teeth, and was hurled off the back of a truck near Basra. His fate, the newspaper reported, is unknown.

Sir Michael Jackson, chief of the general staff, said he ordered an investigation into the pictures as soon as The Mirror notified him of them.

"If proven, the perpetrators are not fit to wear the queen's uniform," he said. "They have besmirched the good name of the army and its honor."

In Iraq, British soldiers have had a less difficult time controlling the area around the southern city of Basra than their U.S. counterparts have had elsewhere, but yesterday many feared that the photographs would inflame tensions.

Rumors run rampant in Iraq, and a sizable proportion of the population seems willing to believe the worst reports about coalition forces. In the days after the fall of Baghdad, when numerous government ministries were burned and looted, many Iraqis believed rumors that Israelis and Kuwaitis were permitted by U.S. soldiers to destroy the buildings in retaliation for Iraq's actions in the Persian Gulf war.

"The Arab world will jump to conclusions," Sir Timothy Garden, a former assistant chief of defense, told the British Broadcasting Corp. "It is bound to have an effect on the broader Iraqi opinion, which is already pretty anti-the-coalition, who they see as an imperialist occupying force."

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