May 16, 2003

Amnesty International to probe torture claims

By Ed Johnson
Associated Press

LONDON — Amnesty International is investigating claims that British and American troops tortured prisoners of war in Iraq with night-long beatings and, in at least one case, electric shocks, the group said Friday.
The human rights organization gathered statements from 20 former detainees who said they had been kicked and beaten by soldiers while being interrogated, Amnesty researcher Said Boumedouha told a news conference in London.

One Saudi Arabian national claimed he was tortured with electric shocks, Boumedouha said.

When asked if his use of the word “torture” accurately described the alleged treatment, Boumedouha responded: “If you keep beating somebody for the whole night and somebody is bleeding and you are breaking teeth, it is more than beating. I think that is torture.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said it had not been contacted by Amnesty about the allegations and insisted prisoners taken by British forces were not mistreated.

“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,” it said in a statement.

“If there are allegations then we will have to look at them and see if we can investigate.”

There was no immediate comment from the Pentagon.

Boumedouha, who returned to Britain on Thursday after a month in Iraq, said the detainees had been arrested in the Basra area.

Some of the men said they were blindfolded or hooded and were kicked and beaten throughout the night, sometimes with weapons, according to Boumedouha. Coalition soldiers had interrogated them with the help of Kuwaiti interpreters, he said.

The Saudi who said he was given electric shocks told Amnesty he had entered Iraq from Syria to volunteer for the Iraqi Red Cross Society, according to the Boumedouha.

Some of those who claimed to have been tortured were civilians detained on suspicion of being Iraqi militia, he said. Some were arrested while combat continued but others were detained later, Boumedouha said.

They were held for up to four days before being moved to a detention center in Umm Qasr. All were subsequently released.

Boumedouha said the group planned to present its findings to British and U.S. authorities.

“We still have people on the ground in Iraq and we will continue to gain testimonies,” Boumedouha said. “Once that is complete we hope to provide a full dossier to present to the British and American authorities as well as publishing ourselves.”

The news conference, which also addressed issues of looting, the protection of mass graves and the responsibility of coalition troops to restore order in Iraq, was also attended by Amnesty’s senior director for international law Claudio Cordone and media officer Judit Arenas.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.