INTERNATIONAL

Blair must answer to evidence of abuse

EXETER (U.K.), JUNE 1. Last week, the British Government admitted for the first time that investigations are under way into the killing in British military custody of 10 Iraqis, double the number previously stated. Meanwhile, the Government has dispatched additional troops to the region and is now seeking immunity for these troops from criminal prosecution in a nominally independent Iraq.

Despite the growing list of murder cases and a continuing stream of evidence of torture, the U.K. Government's position remains one of obstinate denial. Tony Blair's preferred response is to say that a few troops have been engaged in `unacceptable' and individual acts of indiscipline.

No British troops have been punished and, despite a year of evidence, no British soldiers have been named by the military apart from Colonel Tim Collins — who was cleared of charges of war crimes by a British Army investigation.

In Britain, no report equivalent to that of General Taguba of the U.S. has been made available, and investigations are conducted in secrecy, if at all. There have been no hearings in which parliamentary or other committees question publicly and government and military officials.

Nor has the British Parliament been given a private viewing of gruesome photographs of sadistic acts by British troops against their Iraqi charges. The suspect photographs published by the London-based Daily Mirror have been used to discredit all other evidence. But apparently genuine photographs have been in the hands of police and the Ministry of Defence's special investigation branch since at least May 2003. At that time, an 18-year-old member of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, Gary Bartlam, was detained by Warwickshire police when the film he took to be developed revealed images of British soldiers engaged in torture that is remarkably similar to that practised by US troops and mercenaries at Abu Ghraib.

There is no information about how many of the Fusiliers were involved in torture and how high up the Battalion or Regiment the violations were sanctioned. Nor is there any explanation for the similarity of methods of humiliation and torture. Is it a shared culture of depravity or a shared understanding of the efficacy of particular methods of torture?

Britain is not only an ally of the U.S., but British troops are engaged in exactly the same kind of activities as U.S. soldiers despite attempts to maintain a fiction to the contrary. —