Wed 28 July, 2004 14:54
By Andrew Cawthorne
LONDON (Reuters) - Laughing British soldiers tortured Iraqi detainees by beating and kicking them, pouring freezing water on their heads and forcing them to recite names of football stars, a court has heard.
The accusations -- which throw the spotlight back on troop behaviour in the U.S.-led occupation -- came from an Iraqi witness at London's High Court where families of six dead civilians have launched a test case against British soldiers.
"The soldiers appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as the beating was accompanied by laughter," said Kifah Taha al-Mutari on Wednesday. He was arrested in September, 2003, along with one of the six dead Iraqis, Baha Mousa, in a raid on a hotel in Basra.
Mousa later died in custody after alleged severe beatings.
"I could hear him moaning through the walls," added Mutari, whose statement was read in his presence by a lawyer. "I heard him say 'I am dying ... blood ... blood.' I heard nothing further."
Relatives of the Iraqi civilians who died, represented by British lawyer Phil Shiner, are demanding that judges force Tony Blair's government to open independent probes. The case is expected to last to the end of the week.
Families say five of the six Iraqis were shot dead after the war while going about their daily lives -- at home, attending a funeral, driving home from work, and visiting a judge -- in the British-controlled southern region of Iraq.
The sixth and best-known case is Mousa.
His former colleague Mutari gave the court a graphic depiction of their arrest, along with five other hotel workers.
"DANCE LIKE JACKSON"
"They took me and the other detainees to the hotel toilets and started to beat us with their fists and boots. They made us lie on the floor and soldiers stood on our heads," he said. One of the detainees was made to stand inside a large oriental-style toilet where the flush was turned on to humiliate him, he added.
At a military base in Basra, soldiers later beat the hooded detainees on their neck, chest and genitals, Mutari alleged.
"We were given water by it being poured over the hood so that we had to lick droplets that seeped through the hood. Freezing water was poured on to us and this was very painful."
Soldiers would take it in turns to abuse the Iraqis, sometimes eight at a time, he said. One asked them to "dance like Michael Jackson" while others made them recite names of English or Dutch footballers "or we would be beaten severely."
The soldiers also kickboxed their prisoners. "The idea was to try and make us crash into the wall," he said.
Abuse allegations against occupying soldiers came to a head earlier this year with graphic images of U.S. soldiers' mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail.
If the High Court allows independent inquiries into Wednesday's cases, that may pave the way for many more claims and could lead to large compensations and prosecutions.
Britain's Ministry of Defence said it was "robustly" contending the lawyers' central argument that the European Conve ntion on Human Rights should apply to UK soldiers in Iraq.
"It's quite wrong to say there is no legal protection for Iraqi civilians. On the contrary, UK armed forces operate in Iraq in accordance with relevant English law," a spokesman said.
In all, military police have launched 93 investigations into allegations of mistreatment by UK soldiers.
Britain sent 45,000 troops to the Gulf for last year's invasion and still has 8,100 soldiers in Iraq.