Photographs of alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees by three British soldiers reflected “shocking and appalling” incidents, the prosecution told a court martial in Germany on Tuesday.
According to the charge sheet, the three men, aged between 25 and 33, are accused of simulating violence against unidentified detainees, of driving a bound man around in a fork-lift truck and of forcing naked male detainees to simulate the performance of sexual acts.
The three soldiers face a total of nine charges between them, relating to offences alleged to have taken place in an aid camp near Basra, in southern Iraq, in May 2003. The case is the first of its kind involving British forces.
Lance Corporal Darren Larkin, one of the three accused, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to battery, for assaulting and beating an Iraqi in his custody. He denied another charge. Cpl Daniel Kenyon and L Cpl Mark Cooley entered not guilty pleas.
A fourth soldier, Fusilier Gary Bartlam, has already faced a court martial on similar charges arising from the same incident in May 2003, but reporting restrictions are in place regarding this case.
The accusations against the soldiers surfaced when staff at a photograph development laboratory in Britain showed police photographs that were purported to depict scenes of abuse. The prosecuting officer told the court “it cannot be said that these photographs are of incidents that are anything other than shocking and appalling”. A defence lawyer for the three accused yesterday said there had been orders from senior officers for the soldiers to “deal firmly” with the Iraqis because they were accused of stealing food.
The court martial proceedings are taking place in a UK military base in Osnabrück, northern Germany, where the accused men, who belong to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, are stationed.
At the start of proceedings on Tuesday, judge advocate Michael Hunter swore in seven officers who will form a jury to decide the verdict. The trial is expected to last several weeks. If found guilty, the accused face prison sentences and dishonourable discharge from the army.
A statement issued on Tuesdayby General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the British army, stressed that he could not comment on the photographs while the trial was proceeding.
But it sought to put the trial in context by stating that only a “very small number” of the 65,000 troops who had served were alleged to have been involved “in incidents of this type”. As a result, there was only a “very small” number of ongoing investigations into deliberate abuse against Iraqi citizens, Gen Jackson said.
The British military has launched more than 100 investigations into the deaths and injuries of Iraqis in incidents that range from combat to detention to road accidents.
Gen Jackson said the armed forces would “of course study the outcome of this court martial, and consider whether it raises any new issues for the army”.