LONDON - The court martial of three British soldiers for abuse of Iraqi prisoners
has established that a soldier is only as bad as the photographs of the abuse
that get taken.
Three British soldiers face court martial over abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Which
means only three among more than 65,000 British soldiers who have served in
Iraq over the last two years, British military leaders said Wednesday. It was
only an aberration, military leaders said as they sought to squash outrage in
"Brute Camp" read the headline in The Sun tabloid. The
Daily Mirror found the revelations "shocking ... appalling" like
many British leaders said they did. "Britain's Shame" read the headline
in the Daily Mail.
But the shock and the shame was less over the abuse than the fact that it was
British soldiers seen to be behind it. The new pictures from the coalition soldiers'
album have dispensed with the myth that British soldiers were somehow better
and more disciplined than their partners in the U.S. forces. The Abu Ghraib
pictures had led to silent and sometimes not-so-silent boasts that this was
something British soldiers would never do.
The British pictures show soldiers forcing Iraqi prisoners to simulate anal
and oral sex. Another shows a soldier on top of an Iraqi prisoner bound in a
net. Earlier photographs showing British abuse of Iraqi prisoners were revealed
to be fake. But they were fake pictures that gave a glimpse of a true story.
While the tabloid headlines screamed shock, many in Britain responded rather
differently to these images than they did to the photographs of abuse at the
hands of U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib.
The Britain-based Amnesty International, which is often quick to condemn such
abuse when it becomes evident, did not come up with any condemnation after the
photographs went public Tuesday. A press spokesman at Amnesty told IPS Wednesday
that the human rights organization had not issued any statement over these pictures
of abuse. He said he would call back with a comment, but did not.
Liberty, the other busy human rights group in Britain, also offered no comment.
A spokesman said the case was outside their remit, even though the group has
taken a stand on Iraqi cases in a British court before.
The case of human rights abuses by British soldiers in Iraq has been taken
up so far primarily by the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers (PIL). The
group has been acting in 40 cases of torture and killings by British forces.
In a statement Wednesday to the attorney general on behalf of the relatives
of the Iraqis killed by British forces, PIL said the photographs only revealed
more of what their clients had told them.
"Nine of our clients were subjected to torture and ill and degrading treatment
by UK forces in occupied Iraq," the group said in its statement. "Three others
were tortured to death." In these torture cases, the group said, "there
is the clearest possible evidence of ill treatment and torture that is far worse
than that portrayed in the photographs."
The lawyers group added: "It seems there may have been a torture policy for
UK forces in existence, and that these incidents are not the sole responsibility
of low ranking soldiers." The lawyers group said there was evidence that in
the nine cases it had taken up, the men "were tortured over weeks by shifts
of soldiers answerable to at least one officer."
Stress and interrogation techniques used by British forces included "ritual
humiliation of Muslim males, and beatings if the soldiers were not satisfied
that games were performed properly such as dancing like Michael Jackson or remembering
the names of footballers," the group said.
The lawyers group added that "our clients are appalled that over 20 months
have passed since the first of these incidents without a proper investigation."
Phil Shiner, the solicitor acting in these cases said: "It seems that the
world takes little note unless there are pictures. My Iraqi civilian clients
were tortured to death or the brink of death by UK forces. It seems that there
is clear evidence of systematic abuse and torture by UK forces which must now
be the subject of an independent investigation. Those responsible, no matter
how far up the chain of command, must be made accountable."
There is little indication that accountability will climb this chain of command.
The military leadership continues to stress that the instances of torture
which took place within a few weeks of the invasion of Iraq are individual
aberrations, and not practice sanctioned by higher officers.
British soldiers facing the military court could face a maximum sentence of
10 years imprisonment, which is the sentence handed out to the U.S. soldier
Charles Graner over the Abu Ghraib abuse.
Graner said at his conviction that he had only followed orders. He said he
had complained to senior officers about the torture, but had been told that
rough treatment must continue. Graner's seniors have not been brought to face
court martial, and the British soldiers' bosses are not expected to face punishment
Three other U.S. soldiers face court martial, while another three have pleaded
guilty. That means that the military coalition leaders in both the United States
and Britain have brought only seven soldiers to the military court; four in
the United States and now three in Britain. And these are all cases where photographs
The rest of more than a quarter of a million soldiers who have served to occupy
Iraq for close to two years now are by this implication entirely innocent because
their actions were not photographed, or the photographs not produced.