Fri, Jan 21, 2005 - Page 7 News List

British halt court martial of soldiers in Iraq abuse case

SCANDAL Three soldiers face charges that they mistreated prisoners in May 2003. Photos of the alleged abuse shocked the nation after they were published this week

AGENCIES , LONDON

The trial in Germany of British soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners was halted yesterday at the request of the defense, a UK government spokesman said.

"The trial has been halted because of the defense application," Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokes-man told reporters.

Photos published this week showed an Iraqi man dangling from a forklift truck, a soldier with his foot raised over a bound Iraqi lying in a puddle of water and appeared to show naked detainees being forced to simulate anal and other sex acts.

The three soldiers face charges that they mistreated Iraqi prisoners at a food warehouse near Basra in May 2003.

The case came to light when a soldier, who photographed the alleged abuse, took a role of film to be developed in his home town in England, and the photo lab contacted the police.

Blair told parliament on Wed-nesday he found the pictures "shocking and appalling."

The case echoes the scandal involving US soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison, which severely tarnished Washington's image in the Arab world and elsewhere.

"While we express in a unified way our disgust at those pictures, I hope that we do not allow that to tarnish the good name, fully deserved, of our British armed forces," Blair said on Wednesday.

"The very fact that these courts martial have been brought is an indication of how seriously they take them," he said.

"I think and hope that people in Iraq do understand that the very fact that we are taking this action and prosecuting people who ... may have been guilty of offences indicates that we do not tolerate this type of activity in any shape or form at all," he said.

The opposition Conservative leader, Michael Howard, said on Wednesday that the alleged acts were not typical of the British Army, but pressed for assurances that the circumstances would be fully investigated.

"The appalling photographs in today's newspapers bring shame upon our country, but we should recognize that they in no way reflect the true character of Britain's armed forces," Howard said

Also on Wednesday, Ministry of Defense officials said that the Army officer who devised "Operation Ali Baba" -- the plan to round up looters at a British camp in Basra -- would not be disciplined.

Major Dan Taylor, who was in charge of the humanitarian aid base Camp Breadbasket near Basra, told soldiers there to catch the looters who had been stealing food and "work them hard."

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Clapham, the main prosecutor at the court martial in Germany, said Taylor's order was unlawful.

The ministry declined to say what action if any has been taken in relation to Taylor, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel David Paterson, or any other officer.

Senior defense sources would only say that no disciplinary action would be taken.

Meanwhile, a spokesman at Blair's Downing Street office said yesterday that British troops will stay in Iraq for as long as required by the Iraqi authorities, denying a newspaper report that London was urging Washington to give a provisional timetable for a pull-out.

"It is the Iraq government that will determine how long the multinational force will stay in Iraq," the spokesman said.

"There is no timetable," he added. "Troops are not stationed in Iraq to meet a timetable but rather to help Iraq while it decides its own future and builds up its own security capabilities."

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