Lawmakers want report alleging abuse published

PTI | ByAssociated Press, London
May 11, 2004 08:00 PM IST

Lawmakers called on the British government to publish an International Committee of the Red Cross report containing allegations of abuse in Iraq.

Lawmakers called on the British government Sunday to publish an International Committee of the Red Cross report which detailed allegations that coalition troops had abused Iraqi prisoners, and Amnesty International said it told British officials about reports of violence and torture a year ago.

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Amnesty says it has been documenting "patterns of torture" by coalition troops in Iraq for more than a year.

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The human rights group said Sunday it first warned the government last May that prisoners had been tortured, and at least one killed, in British custody. The group said it had held a series of meetings with Foreign Office and defense ministry officials over the past year.

"They said they would look into it and get back to us," said Amnesty's Middle East spokeswoman, Nicole Choueiry. "Since then, they did not get back to us."

The Ministry of Defense could not confirm when it was first told of the allegations. But a spokeswoman said the ministry had been "investigating cases of alleged abuse since way back into last year."

The ministry is investigating 33 cases in all, she said. The Red Cross also has said it warned American officials of prisoner abuse in Iraq more than a year ago.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said it had been shown the Red Cross report in February. Officials would not discuss its contents.

"I find it intolerable that all we know about this report is what has actually leaked in Washington," former foreign secretary Robin Cook told the British Broadcasting Corp. "Breakfast with Frost" program.

Cook, who resigned from Blair's Cabinet last year to protest the war in Iraq, said publishing the report was the only way to "see what independent people are saying about the problem and how severe it is."

Cook's call for publication was supported by Conservative Party co-chairman Liam Fox and Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell.

"Only total transparency and swift investigation will provide answers," Campbell said. "It is not only the integrity of the army which is at stake but the safety of those serving in Iraq."

The Ministry of Defense said Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon would make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday about the allegations of abuse. However, a spokeswoman said the government was unlikely to publish the confidential Red Cross report.

On Friday the Wall Street Journal published details from the report describing beatings and humiliation of prisoners at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison and in the British-controlled southern city of Basra.

Roland Huguenin-Benjamin, a spokesman for the Red Cross, said Sunday that the organization identified concerns with every prison camp in Iraq.

"The concern we have been expressing for a year now deals with a general pattern of mistreatment of detainees," he told Sky television. "What we are tackling in our reports is the overall treatment of prisoners in general in camps under coalition forces in Iraq.

"We were warning of the fact that the treatment given to prisoners and in particular the way they were prepared for interrogation is not acceptable from the point of view of the Geneva Convention."

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