Britain says it is close to deciding whether to prosecute soldiers in two cases of alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners, but it has cast doubt on the authenticity of photographs that supposedly show British troops beating an Iraqi detainee.
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon briefed parliament on the prisoner abuse scandal, amid growing concern the affair is undermining coalition efforts to bring peace to Iraq.
He said British military police have investigated 33 complaints of mistreatment. Fifteen cases have been dismissed and the others are at various stages of completion.
?I can confirm today two cases have reached an advanced stage, with decisions on prosecutions pending. Obviously it is important that the legal processes should be completed independently. But I want to say on behalf of the British government that we unreservedly apologize to any Iraqis, where the evidence shows they have been mistreated,? Mr. Hoon said.
Mr. Hoon also cast new doubts on the authenticity of photos published by the Daily Mirror newspaper that purportedly show British troops beating an Iraqi prisoner shortly before he was allegedly thrown off of a moving truck in southern Iraq.
?There are strong indications that the vehicle in which the photos were taken was not in Iraq during the relevant period. Additional lines of inquiry are being pursued to corroborate this fact,? he added.
The photos and accompanying articles have ignited a controversy in Britain about the conduct of British troops toward Iraqi detainees. They were published shortly after a U.S. television network was the first to broadcast graphic photos of U.S. military guards abusing Iraqi prisoners.
Mr. Hoon told parliament he and Prime Minister Tony Blair had only recently seen a International Committee of the Red Cross report delivered in February to U.S. and British officials in Iraq detailing instances of prisoner mistreatment.
That prompted the defense spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, Nicolas Soames, to assail the government's competence. ?The government's failures in this regard must lend further credence to the view that this is a government that has lost its grip on its policy in Iraq,? Mr. Soames said. ?If the secretary of state (Hoon) did not know about it, he most emphatically should have done and he is unacceptably complacent and negligent in not having done so,? he added.
Mr. Hoon played down the verbal attack. He said the report's recommendations to Britain had already been dealt with at lower levels, including an investigation into the death of a prisoner and the abolition of the practice of putting hoods on prisoners' heads.