UK had advance alert of jail abuse
A report on torture on Iraqis at Abu Ghraib was circulated within the
By Jamie Doward
Observer" - - The British army's senior military lawyer in Iraq was aware of allegations that human rights abuses were being committed at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison months before they were exposed by the American media.
The lawyer, who compiled regular written and oral briefings for his seniors within the British army's high command, was responsible for summarising a litany of abuses identified by the Red Cross after the charity visited the prison in October 2003.
The charity said the abuses, which included beatings and the threat of imminent execution, were 'tantamount to torture'. Following its visit, the Red Cross compiled a detailed report for the US military calling for a series of changes in the prison's regime.
The report was read by the British military lawyer, whose identity is not known, and circulated within Command Joint Task Force 7 (CJTF7), the division in charge of Abu Ghraib.
Under the Geneva Convention, officers have a duty to report allegations of human rights abuses to their seniors.
But the scandal came to light only in 2004 after photographs showing the abuse and contained on a CD were passed to a senior soldier, sparking a full investigation.
The pictures appeared in the US media last April along with the contents of the US authorities' report into the abuse at Abu Ghraib. The photographs, showing Iraqis being forced to simulate sexual acts and threatened with attack by dogs, shocked the world.
The British military lawyer's role was revealed to the Plaid Cymru MP, Adam Price, in a letter from Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, last week.
'The British officer saw the Red Cross report to the US of November 2003, which related to the findings of their visit to Abu Ghraib in October 2003,' Ingram confirms.
He added that he produced a summary of the Red Cross report in November 2003 which was circulated to senior staff within the American army division responsible for overseeing Abu Ghraib.
'He produced a summary of (the Red Cross) report in November 2003 which was circulated to senior personnel within [the army division responsible for overseeing Abu Ghraib],' Ingram continues.
'The British officer recalls submitting reports - both orally and in writing - to his British superiors in Baghdad. We have not been able to locate copies of those reports,' Ingram concluded.
Price said the news that a senior British military official was aware of abuse allegations at Abu Ghraib raised a series of questions about who knew exactly what was happening at the prison and when.
'The Red Cross report was the first conclusive and substantive evidence of specific and serious abuse,' Price said yesterday. 'But the British government's position has always been that they were not aware of any specific evidence until January 2004. I would have expected the sort of information contained within the Red Cross report to have been passed on,' Price added.
'It appears that if the photos of the abuse had not been published we would never have known the Red Cross was right,' Price said.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said yesterday that, despite the fact the British military lawyer sent regular summaries to the army high command, it could not confirm whether he had informed his superiors of the allegations within the Red Cross report.
'He reported to senior staff within the coalition task force. It was for the US to respond, not the British,' the spokeswoman said.
'He was an embedded officer who worked for the US government. He instructed an Australian major to respond to the allegations,' she added.
Subsequent investigations into Abu Ghraib revealed that the US military approved a series of interrogation techniques at the prison which human rights groups say went beyond the Geneva Convention.
These included sensory deprivation, the use of stress positions, changes to sleep patterns, solitary confinement and the use of dogs. Several soldiers have been jailed for committing Iraqis held in the prison.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
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