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Blair Apologizes for Treatment of Iraqi Prisoners - 2004-05-10


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has apologized for alleged mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by British troops. Meanwhile, Mr. Blair's defense secretary is preparing to brief parliament on the scandal.

Prime Minister Blair says any British soldiers found guilty of abusing Iraqi prisoners will be punished. He made the promise in an interview on French television.

"We apologize deeply to anyone who has been mistreated by any of our soldiers. That is absolutely and totally unacceptable," he says. "Those who are responsible for this, if they behaved in this appalling way, they will be punished according to the army discipline and rules."

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon prepared to deliver a statement to Parliament on the Iraq prison scandal, amid evidence the U.S.-led coalition has known of the problem at Iraqi detention centers for a year.

The London-based human rights group Amnesty International says it alerted authorities of prison abuses last May. And the British and U.S. governments received a report on prisoner mistreatment from the International Committee of the Red Cross last February.

The British Defense Ministry says investigations into the alleged abuses began last year.

Adding to the controversy, a British tabloid newspaper, the Daily Mirror, has published allegations that British troops beat and urinated on an Iraqi prisoner and then pushed him from a moving truck. Photos accompanying the articles have been criticized by some military experts as possible fakes.

A new public opinion poll, conducted by the ICM group for the Independent newspaper, has found that 55 percent of Britons want their troops withdrawn from Iraq when sovereignty is transferred on June 30.

The Blair government is considering a U.S. request to send more troops to fill a gap left by Spain's pullout from Iraq. Defense spokesmen said Monday the decision is still pending.

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