The New York Times
May 17, 2003
Iraqi Detainees Claim Abuse by British and U.S. Troops
By MARC LACEY
BASRA, Iraq, May 15 _ Muhammad al-Tamimi wants the British soldier who he says kicked him in the ribs and hit him over the head with the butt of his gun to endure what he endured _ a long detention.
Mr. Tamimi is one of about two dozen detainees who have come forward recently with complaints of mistreatment by allied forces in southern Iraq. Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, which has been conducting interviews with the complainants, said today that some of the acts described could be considered torture.
Iraqis who were taken prisoner have accused American and British soldiers of offenses ranging from beatings to _ in one severe case recounted by a Saudi man _ electric shock. Some detainees have accused soldiers of hitting them just once, but in one instance a former prisoner said he was beaten throughout the night.
Researchers at Amnesty International said today that they had not corroborated the allegations or presented them to allied forces. But they said they had received enough similar accounts from Iraqi civilians and soldiers that they were taking them seriously.
"The patterns that have emerged constitute ill treatment," said Kathleen A. Cavanaugh, an Amnesty International researcher in Basra who conducted some of the interviews. "That mistreatment may constitute, in some cases, torture."
The British Ministry of Defense released a statement denying the accusations.
"Those who were detained by British forces were treated in line with the Geneva Conventions, and we had regular visits by the International Committee for the Red Cross," the statement read. "If there are allegations, then we will have to look at them and see if we can investigate."
A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan G. Whitman, also disputed the Amnesty International report. "We treat all enemy prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and with dignity and respect," Mr. Whitman said.
Mr. Tamimi, 26, said he was one of those who welcomed the toppling of Saddam Hussein and greeted the advancing British soldiers not with guns but waves of joy. But on April 17, after the British had contained a fierce counterattack by Hussein loyalists in Basra, Mr. Tamimi said he was picked up on the street one evening and hauled away.
He said he was treated roughly from the start and was denied water despite repeated requests. One British soldier struck him in the forehead, Mr. Tamimi said as he showed off a scar. He said he was also kicked hard in the ribs. In addition, he said soldiers took the money he was carrying, about $200 in Iraqi dinars, and never returned it.
"In every country, whatever nationality, British, American or Iraqi, there are people who are nice and people who are not so nice," said Mr. Tamimi, who is a street hawker. "The soldier who mistreated me needs to be taken to court."
In Mr. Tamimi's case, the mistreatment stopped when he came into the custody of American soldiers, he said. He was taken to the detention compound for prisoners of war in Umm Qasr, where he said he was treated with dignity, although he said it took from April 17 until May 14 for a board of inquiry to determine that he ought to be released.
Mr. Tamimi carries a battered piece of paper in his pocket that documents his release.
"In the case of the above individual, the board reached the conclusion that there was no evidence to doubt that the person was a civilian status, and there was no evidence to support an assertion that he had committed a belligerent act against coalition forces," said the document, signed by Col. Alan Ecke, the camp commander.
As word of Amnesty International's investigation has spread in Basra and other southern towns, former detainees have begun arriving unannounced at the Al-Marbad Hotel, where staff members for the organization have been staying.
"A soldier hit me for no reason," said Muhammad al-Qatrany, 22, who was interviewed today by an Amnesty researcher on the front porch of the hotel. "I didn't have a weapon. I was a civilian. Why did he hit me?"
Researchers from the organization said the accounts they heard were consistent in interview after interview. They said they were unconvinced by suggestions that the mistreatment, if it occurred, came in the heat of battle.
"You treat people taken into custody in a war the way you want your prisoners to be treated," said Ms. Cavanaugh, who is a lecturer at the Irish Center for Human Rights. "The American and British publics would be justifiably outraged if their prisoners of war were treated this way."
Amnesty also criticized the American military for not allowing the organization access to the Umm Qasr detention center.
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/17/international/worldspecial/17PRIS.html
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