Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 18, 2009

British Army Accused of Sexual Abuse of Detainees in Iraq

BAGnews is pleased to introduce Pete Brook, our newest contributor. This piece is cross-posted from Pete’s superb blog, Prison Photography.
mousa

Still from video shown to the Baha Mousa public Inquiry showing Corporal Donald Payne,

formerly of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, shouting and swearing at hooded Iraqi detainees.

The British Army is facing accusations as serious as those leveled against the US military at Abu Ghraib.

Let me offer some context of UK Army abuses in Iraq.

Only one British soldier has ever been sentenced to prison for detainee abuses in Iraq. He is Corporal Donald Payne. Above is a still from this very disturbing video which was released in June of this year into the inquiry of Baha Mousa’s death. A long-running and contradicting narrative followed this case since Mousa’s death in 2003 and the opening of the first inquiry in 2006. BBC has a timeline.

It seems that Corporal Payne and the six other soldiers acquitted during this inquiry may not have been the only British soldiers involved in abuse. I must say that these allegations are still just that – they are unproven, yet to be fully investigated.

Robert Verkaik of the Independent has pursued this story here and here:

One claimants says he as raped by two British soldiers, and others say they were stripped naked, abused and photographed. For the first time, British female soldiers are accused of aiding in the sexual and physical abuse of detainees.

The 33 new cases, which form part of a pre-action protocol letter served on the MoD last week, include allegations of mock executions, dog attacks, rape, exposure to lewd acts and exposure to pornography. The abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003 – the time as Baha Mousa’s torture and death.

It is suggested it has taken so long for the allegations to come about because the Iraqi’s were fearful of reprisals during the British occupation of Southern Iraq. UK forces pulled out in April, 2009. Three camps are named: Shaat-al-Arab camp (shown below), Shaaibah British camp and Akka in Al-Zubayr.

shaat-al-arab-camp.jpg

Shaat-al-Arab camp, Southern Iraq

Details of abuse:

In May 2003, a 16-year-old Iraqi was among a group of Iraqis taken to the Shatt-al-Arab British camp to help fill sandbags. When the Iraqi youth, who wishes to remain anonymous, and his friends had filled the available sandbags, a British soldier indicated that he should enter a room, from where he assumed that he was to retrieve more sand bags, he says.

On entering the room, he claims he saw two British male soldiers engaged in oral sex. As soon as the two men saw him enter, they started to beat and kick him, he alleges. When he fell to the floor, one of the men held a blade to his neck while the other soldier stripped him naked. Although he screamed in protest, the two British soldiers, one after the other, raped him.

More:

They took off our blindfolds and I could see that we were surrounded by seven or eight soldiers. There were five of us. They asked us to pick fights with one another, or fight them. They were laughing at us and taking photos with digital cameras. They made us squeeze in pile-up, as in Abu Ghraib prison photos, while a soldier stood on top of us and started shouting and laughing. I felt so humiliated and treated as a toy they messed up with.

They picked further on a younger man who was good-looking. They made him strip naked and started messing with his penis and taking photos. “On one occasion I refused to pick a fight, then a soldier kicked me hard on my back, which made me fall on the floor. He started hitting me with a baton on my knees. Then he used an electric baton on different parts of my body.”

Source: Independent Saturday, 14 November 2009

Of course one wonders now whether the investigations will publish the photographic evidence or if it will be used only internally.

Personally, I have no desire to see these images. I sympathize with arguments to say that only through release of such images can the world know the full extent of what happened, but I also doubt what we can actually and accurately “know” from photographs that we wouldn’t otherwise learn through full disclosure and description of events.

It is extremely unfortunate that both Google and Daylife image searches for “Shaat-al-Arab camp” result in this image.

shaatborat.jpg

British soldiers share a laugh as their comrade walks around dressed as Borat, the Kazakh journalist

played by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, during Christmas celebrations at the Shatt al-Arab camp

in the southern Iraqi port city of Basra on December 25, 2008. The Iraqi parliament has voted to allow the

presence of non-US foreign troops after December 31, giving British troops a legal basis to remain beyond

the expiry of a UN mandate. © ESSAM AL-SUDANI/AFP/Getty Images

But the madness, brevity, violence, stress, justified escapism, testosterone and “laws” of war are vastly different than in any other milieu.

It just seems to me that the internet has collided stories and images here that could be as valid a critique of 20th century war as any of the great American Vietnam films.

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Interestingly, Shaat-al-Arab camp was erased by Google from their maps three years ago for security reasons. This action seems warranted as Shaat-al-Arab camp was a common target for insurgents – as Abu Ghraib was. Details are described half way through this article.

Thanks to Sean for the tip off.

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