Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Friday, 1 January 2010

Secret Army squad 'abused Iraqis', lawyers claim

UK soldier in Iraq
Lawyers allege that UK forces were guilty of "coercion"

A secret Army interrogation squad abused dozens of Iraqi prisoners, a firm of lawyers has claimed.

Prisoners were hooded, held in "stress positions", denied sleep and daylight, and told their wives and mothers would be raped, the lawyers allege.

They say the Joint Forward Intelligence Team (JFIT) was not answerable to the Army chain of command.

A judicial review is already under way. Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell said all abuse claims were taken seriously.

'Bad state'

Public Interest Lawyers, the firm representing the Iraqis, says around 20 cases are ready to go to the High Court.

Fourteen fresh claims of torture have been made bringing the total number of cases being investigated by the government to 47, the Independent newspaper reports.

Phil Shiner, of the law firm, said the allegations about JFIT came to light after it was revealed Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa died in British custody.

He added: "The JFIT people are not answerable to the military chain of command - it is a compound within a compound."

He also alleged JFIT operatives told military leaders on the ground that they were answerable to the UK-based Defence Intelligence and Security Centre - meaning they were "pretty much able to do what they wanted".

He added: "Most of the Iraqis are in a very bad state.

"A lot of them complained that they were told if they didn't confess their wives or mothers would be brought into the base and raped.

"That kind of behaviour is coercion. It's banned and the government needs to investigate whether that was in fact happening and make sure it never happens again."

The newspaper claimed the alleged abuse came after the US raised concerns in 2003 that UK forces were not securing intelligence from Iraqi prisoners.

It said the interrogations took place at the Shaibah Logistics Base, 13 miles from Basra, from 2004 to 2007.

Mr Rammell said: "We must never forget that over 120,000 British troops have served in Iraq and the vast, vast majority have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour, displaying integrity and selfless commitment.

"Only a tiny number have ever fallen short of our high standards, but even a tiny number is unacceptable.

"All allegations of abuse are taken very seriously, however allegations must not be taken as fact and formal investigations must be allowed to take their course without judgments being made prematurely."

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