Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Detainees complain of abuses by occupation forces

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BASRA, IRAQ

Muhammad al-Tamimi said he wants the British soldier who kicked him in the ribs and hit him over the head with the butt of his gun to endure what he endured -- a long detention.

Tamimi was one of about two dozen detainees who have come forward recently with complaints of mistreatment by US and British forces in southern Iraq. Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group which has been conducting interviews with the detainees, said Thursday that some of the soldiers' actions, if substantiated, could be described as torture.

Iraqis who were taken prisoner have accused US and British soldiers of offenses varying from beatings to -- in one case recounted by a Saudi man -- electric shock. While in some cases the detainees accused soldiers of hitting them just once, in one instance, a former prisoner said he was beaten throughout the night.

Researchers at Amnesty International said Thursday they had not yet corroborated the allegations or presented them to US and British forces. But they said they had received enough similar accounts from Iraqi civilians and soldiers that they were taking them seriously.

"The patterns that have emerged constitute ill treatment," said Kathleen Cavanaugh, an Amnesty International researcher in Basra who conducted some of the interviews. "That mistreatment may constitute, in some cases, torture."

The British Ministry of Defense released a statement denying the accusations.

"Those who were detained by British forces were treated in line with the Geneva Conventions, and we had regular visits by the International Committee for the Red Cross," the statement read. "If there are allegations, then we will have to look at them and see if we can investigate."

A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, also disputed the Amnesty International report. "We treat all enemy prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and with dignity and respect," Whitman said.

Tamimi, 26, said he was one of those who welcomed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and greeted the advancing British soldiers not with guns but with waves of joy. But on April 17, after the British had contained a fierce counterattack by Saddam loyalists in Basra, Tamimi said, he was picked up on the street one evening and detained.

He said he was treated roughly from the start and was denied water despite repeated requests. One British soldier struck him in the forehead, Tamimi said as he showed off a scar. Shortly after that, he said, while he had a hood over his head, he was kicked hard in the ribs. In addition, he said soldiers took the money he was carrying, about US$200 in Iraqi dinars, and never returned it.

"In every country, whatever nationality, British, American or Iraqi, there are people who are nice and people who are not so nice," said Tamimi, who said he worked as a street vendor. "The soldier who mistreated me needs to be taken to court."

In Tamimi's case, the mistreatment stopped when he came into the custody of US soldiers, he said. He was taken to the detention compound for prisoners of war in Umm Qasr, where he said he was treated with dignity, although he said it took until Wednesday for a board of inquiry to determine that he ought to be released.

As word of Amnesty International's investigation has spread in Basra and other southern towns, former detainees have begun arriving unannounced at the Al-Marbad Hotel, where staff members for the organization have been staying.

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