Kidnap and torture: new claims
of Army war crimes in Iraq
Robert Verkaik reveals evidence of systemic ill-treatment of
civilians by British soldiers in the aftermath of the overthrow
By Robert Verkaik
Independent" -- -- The British Army is facing new
allegations that it was involved in "forced disappearances",
hostage-taking and torture of Iraqi civilians after the fall of
the regime of Saddam Hussein.
One of the claims is made by the former chairman of the Red
Crescent in Basra, who alleges he was beaten unconscious by
British soldiers after they accused him of being a senior
official in Saddam's Baath party.
The family of another Iraqi civilian claims he was arrested and
kidnapped by the British in order to secure the surrender of his
brother, who was also accused of being a high-ranking member of
the party. He was later found shot dead, still handcuffed and
wearing a UK prisoner name tag.
Both cases are being prepared for hearings in the High Court in
which the Government will be accused of war crimes while
carrying out the arrest and detention of alleged senior members
of the Baath party.
Last month, the first British soldier to be convicted of a war
crime was jailed for a year and dismissed from the Army after
being convicted of mistreating Iraqi civilians, including the
hotel worker Baha Mousa, who died of his injuries at the hands
of British soldiers. Six other soldiers, including Col Jorge
Mendonca, were cleared of all charges.
Lawyers and rights groups say the worrying aspect of these
latest allegations is that they show evidence of systemic abuse
by British soldiers soon after the fall of Saddam.
Fouad Awdah Al-Saadoon, 67, chairman of the Iraqi Red Crescent
in Basra, alleges he was visited by British soldiers at his
offices in the city on 12 April 2003 and was taken to the
British base at the former Mukhabarat [intelligence] building.
In his witness statement, Mr Saadoon said he was accused of
being a member of the Baath party and of using his
organisation's ambulances secretly to transport Iraqi militia.
In a detailed account of the abuse that he alleges he suffered,
Mr Saadoon recalls: "As soon as I went inside they started
beating me. They used electric cables and wooden batons and they
harshly punched me with their hands and boots. I had a heart
problem, I was a diabetic and had high blood pressure. I was hit
repeatedly on my eyes which made me collapse unconscious."
Mr Saadoon was later transferred to the joint
American/British-run detention centre called Camp Bucca, in
southern Iraq, which the British had set up to process prisoners
at the start of the war. He was interrogated for five days.
Because of the injuries sustained during the beatings his
condition worsened and he claims the British flew him to Kuwait
for a heart operation. There he claims he was visited by the
International Federation of the Red Crescent whose
representatives expressed concern at his alleged treatment by
In the second case, a 26-year-old Iraqi civilian, Tarek Hassan,
was arrested in a dawn raid by British troops involved in the
rounding up of Baath party officials on 24 April 2003. His
family allege he was held hostage by the British in exchange for
the surrender of his brother, Kadhim Hassan, a member of the
Five months after his arrest, his family received a phone call
to say his body had been found dumped in Samarra, north of
Baghdad and 550 miles from the detention centre where he had
been held. Kadhim Hassan, 37, has spent the past three years
trying to establish the circumstances that led to the death of
his brother. Now Iraqi human rights workers and British lawyers
have uncovered vital witnesses to his arrest and detention. They
have also recovered Tarek's UK identity tag, which indicates he
was a British prisoner.
In his witness statement, Kadhim recalls the night his bother
was arrested. "The British were looking for me as I was a
high-ranking member of the Baath party," he said. "I suspect
that a financial dispute with one of my neighbours made him
inform the British of my rank and he possibly told them some
lies which made them look for me." Kadhim had left the family a
few hours before the armoured vehicles carrying the soldiers
arrived. When his sisters contacted the British to find out
where the British had taken Tarek, they were told that he would
only be released if Kadhim gave himself up. That was the last
they heard of him until five months later.
"He was found," said Kadhim, "by locals in the countryside ...
We went to collect him from the morgue in Samarra, where we
found him with eight bullet wounds to his chest. They were
Kalashnikov bullets. His hands were tied with plastic wire and
had many bruises."
Now it emerges that Mr Saadoon, who has left Iraq and is working
as a businessman in Dubai, met Tarek shortly after he was flown
back to Camp Bucca from Kuwait, where he had been receiving
"I was brought back to Camp Bucca in a van on 21 April and
placed in a tent, which held 400 prisoners. On 24 April Tarek
Hassan was brought to our tent. He was very scared and confused.
He told me British troops had raided his house and were looking
for his brother who left the house before the soldiers had
arrived. As I was in bad health, Tarek used to bring me food and
care for me. Tarek was never interrogated while I was at Camp
On 27 April the International Federation of the Red Crescent
requested the British to free Mr Saadoon and that night he and
all 200 others were released in the middle of the night on the
highway between Basra and Zubai. "We had to walk 25 miles to
reach the nearest place where we could hire cars," remembers Mr
The Government denies being involved in the injuries suffered by
Mr Saadoon or responsibility for Tarek's death. In letters to
the family, the Ministry of Defence makes the point that the
bullets that may have killed him were fired from a Kalashnikov
weapon and that the area where his body was found was not an
area of operations associated with British forces.
But the Hassan family's solicitor, Phil Shiner, of Public
Interest Lawyers, said the evidence showed Tarek disappeared at
the hands of UK forces and that the circumstances of his release
"significantly increased the risk to his life".
In recent correspondence, the MoD has admitted to the Hassan
family that Tarek was held at Camp Bucca but claims that it is a
US-run camp and so not the responsibility of the British.
Mr Shiner, who is acting in both cases, said: "The Government
deny any responsibility in a case where a man has been kidnapped
by UK forces and killed. It is a matter of public record that
our agents were torturing Iraqis at Camp Bucca and continued to
hand over detainees to the Iraqi criminal system even though
there was a serious risk of torture or death in detention. This
case is important because if the UK have jurisdiction it cannot
allow these incidents to continue and must properly investigate
Mazin Younis, chair of the Iraqi League, a UK-based rights
group, said: "The cases we have reported so far may only be the
tip of an iceberg of systematic abuse procedures devised high up
the command chain in the Army. The scale of such cases greatly
necessitates the need for the Government to start a public
Camp Bucca, a 'holding facility' with a history of allegations
The secure holding facility in the desert near the city of Umm
Qasr, close to the Kuwaiti border, was originally called Camp
Freddy and used by British forces to hold Iraqi prisoners of
But in April 2003 control of the camp was transferred to the
Americans, although there was a "secure and discrete" unit
within the camp that remained exclusively British. In 2003 the
British had control of two tent compounds, holding roughly 400
prisoners each. The Americans had six similar compounds.
The camp is designed to hold between 2,000 and 2,500 prisoners
but figures released in March 2006 estimated that it held 8,500
There have been a number of inquiries into alleged abusive
treatment at the camp, mostly related to the Americans.
In February 2005 American soldiers killed four detainees and
injured six others to quell a riot in which prisoners were armed
But the British have also been accused of abuse, specifically
the hooding of prisoners, which led to concerns being raised
with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Six of the men detained with Baha Mousa were later taken to Camp
Bucca. Conditions in the camp are known to be primitive, with
open trenches used as lavatories.
The prisoners were forced to sleep on the desert floor, at risk
from scorpions and snakes, and were only given one blanket at
night when temperatures can fall below zero.
Since May 2003, 27 prisoners have escaped from Camp Bucca, 18 of
whom have been recaptured. A number of attempts at mass escape
have been foiled.
The Ministry of Defence says that apart from two spells in 2003,
Camp Bucca has been run by the Americans.
Soldiers in the dock
On 15 May 2003 the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of
Fusiliers captured Iraqis looting an aid camp in Operation
Ali-Baba. They were detained for a brief period during which
they were beaten, forced to simulate oral and anal sex and
suspended from a forklift truck. Later that month, Fusilier Gary
Bartlam, 20, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, took a film to be
developed containing 22 photographs of abuse taking place. This
triggered a lengthy court martial at a British Army barracks in
Osnabruck, Germany. Bartlam pleaded guilty to three charges of
ill treatment of Iraqi prisoners. Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33, from
Newcastle, denied six charges of abuse. He was convicted of
three, cleared of two charges and the remaining charge was
dropped. L/Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, from Newcastle, denied two
charges of abuse but was found guilty of both. L/Cpl Darren
Larkin, 30, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, admitted to one
charge of assault but denied another. The second charge was
The hotel worker and son of an Iraqi police colonel died on 16
September 2003 while in custody of the Queen's Lancashire
Regiment at a detention centre near Basra. The building had
formerly been the secret service headquarters of Ali Majid
(Chemical Ali). Cpl Donald Payne, 36, became Britain's first
convicted war criminal when he admitted inhumanely treating
civilian detainees. Six other soldiers were cleared by a
military court in Bulford, Wiltshire, of abusing Mr Mousa and
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