Blair: Only saw report on abuse this week

Published on May 12, 2004 06:28 PM IST

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq "has been immensely damaging."

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PTI | ByAssociated Press, London

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Wednesday that alleged abuse of prisoners in Iraq "has been immensely damaging," but said that all complaints about British troops had been addressed.

Blair, speaking in the House of Commons, also said that photos of British troops allegedly abusing an Iraqi prisoner, published by the Daily Mirror newspaper, "were almost certainly fake." The newspaper has not withdrawn its allegations.

A report released Tuesday by Amnesty International listed only one case of a civilian death which was not already known to the government, Blair said.

"Any abuse by any coalition forces is completely unacceptable," Blair said. "What is not true is that allegations were made and nothing happened in respect of them."

Blair avoided comment on allegations of abuse by US forces, but said: "I agree that the events of the past few days have been immensely damaging."

Conservative Party leader Michael Howard tried to press Blair about why no government minister seemed to be aware of the Red Cross report until this week. Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said they had not previously seen the report, though Straw said Tuesday it would have been better if he had. "How can the people of this country have confidence in this prime minister and his government?" Howard said. Blair accused Howard of attempting to "extract the maximum political mischief" from the controversy, but did not explain why the report reached senior ministers only this month. He repeatedly said that British authorities were dealing with each of the abuses cited by the Red Cross. In one instance - the hooding of prisoners - the practice was stopped months before the Red Cross report, Blair said.

Earlier, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said alleged torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British and America troops condemns the whole of the West in the eyes of the Arab world. "It is deeply shameful and it indicts us all in the West. It is cruel, it is horrible, it is degrading," Lord Carey said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"I don't know how we can pull out of this. Apologies are not enough," said Carey, who retired as archbishop in 2002. Carey said the images fed into the sense of mistrust between the West and the Arab world, and, as the beheading of American Nick Berg showed, could lead to further violence. He described the beheading as "barbaric."

Blair's official spokesman also described the killing as "barbaric," but the prime minister did not refer to it during his 30-minute appearance in the House of Commons.

Berg, 26, was slain by an al-Qaida-affiliated group. A video shown on an Islamic militant Web site said the killing was to avenge the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers. The prisoner abuse erupted into an international scandal in recent days after the publication of graphic images, showing naked prisoners stacked in a human pyramid, being forced to simulate sex acts and a naked Iraqi prisoner being terrorized by guard dogs.

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