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November 04, 2010

Iraqis Claim Abuse by British Military

A group of over 100 Iraqi civilians are suing for a broad British inquiry into the torture and abuse they say they suffered at the hands of British soldiers and interrogators following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Iraqis say they were abused in British military facilities in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.

Phil Shiner, head of the human rights firm that's representing the Iraqis, Public Interest Lawyers, spoke at a recent press conference in London.

"There are hundreds of Iraqis now complaining of ill treatment and torture, often a result of coercive interrogation techniques by UK interrogators within secret facilities run by the joint forwards interrogation team,"  he said.

He said the Iraqi civilians were victim to a host of abuses including rape, sleep deprivation, and death threats.

Many, he says, didn't survive the abuse.

"There appear to be many cases other than that of Baha Mousa where Iraqis died in UK custody and were then certified as dying from natural causes," said Shiner. "None of these deaths have been investigated. Many of these Iraqis were hooded and abused and my law firm does not accept the Ministry of Defense's explanation that each and every one of these deaths has an innocent explanation."

Britain's Ministry of Defense says the allegations are unproven.

The MOD has set up a team to investigate all alleged cases of abuse by British service personnel in Iraq, known as the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

And an inquiry has already been carried out into specific allegations related to the abuse of Baha Mousa. Another trial related to a specific Iraqi is due to begin next year.  

But Public Interest Lawyers say this process is too slow and that with over 100 claimants it would take over 100 years to finish the investigation. Instead, it wants a single inquiry into Britain's detention policy in South East Iraq.

Tim Cooke-Hurle is from the London-based human rights campaign group Reprieve.

He says public inquiries are key to transparency and those that have already been set up show important progress. But he says it's important that those inquiries cover all possible abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"It has to be that the inquiries cover over bases, that where the United Kingdom have been cooperating with other forces overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to know through a robust inquiry that our detention operations have in fact been properly scrutinized," he said.

Britain's Minister of Defense says a new inquiry would be costly and neither "necessary [n]or appropriate".

The hearing in London is expected to conclude next week.