British troops recount human rights abuses at US detention facility in Iraq

British soldiers and airmen tell of prisoners brought in by SAS and SBS snatch squads being hooded and given electric shocks

Ian Cobain

An aerial view of Baghdad international airport, where the secret prison known as Camp Nama was based. Photograph: Reuters

April 1,2013 (the guardian)Members of two RAF squadrons and one Army Air Corps squadron were given guard and transport duties at the secret prison, the Guardian has established. Many of the detainees were brought to the facility by snatch squads formed from Special Air Service and Special Boat Service squadrons. The abuses the soldiers and airmen say they saw included:

• Iraqi prisoners being held for prolonged periods in cells the size of large dog kennels.

• Prisoners being subjected to electric shocks.

• Prisoners being routinely hooded.

• Inmates being taken into a sound-proofed shipping container for interrogation, and emerging in a state of physical distress.

Codenamed Task Force 121, the joint US-UK special forces unit was at first deployed to detain individuals thought to have information about Saddam Hussein‘s weapons of mass destruction.

Once it was realised that Saddam’s regime had long since abandoned its WMD programme, TF 121 was tasked with tracking down people who might know where the deposed dictator and his loyalists would be, and then with catching al-Qaida leaders who emerged in the country after the regime collapsed.

Suspects were brought to the secret prison at Baghdad international airport, known as Camp Nama, for questioning by US military and civilian interrogators.

The methods used were so brutal that they drew condemnation not only from a US human-rights body but from a special investigator reporting to the Pentagon.

A British serviceman who served at Nama recalled: “I saw one man having his prosthetic leg being pulled off him, and being beaten about the head with it before he was thrown on to the truck.”

On the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, former members of TF121 and its successor unit TF6-26 have come forward to describe the abuses they witnessed, and to state that they complained about the mistreatment of detainees.

It is unclear how many of their complaints were registered or passed up the chain of command.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said a search of its records did not turn up “anything specific” about complaints from British personnel at Camp Nama, or anything that substantiated such complaints. Nevertheless, the emergence of evidence of British involvement in the running of such a notorious detention facility appears to raise fresh questions about ministerial approval of operations that resulted in serious human-rights abuses.

Geoff Hoon, defence secretary at the time, insisted he had no knowledge of Camp Nama. When it was pointed out to him that the British military had provided transport services and a guard force, and had helped to detain Nama’s inmates, he replied: “I’ve never heard of the place.”

The MoD, on the other hand, repeatedly failed to address questions about ministerial approval of British operations at Camp Nama.

Nor would the department say whether ministers had been made aware of concerns about human rights abuses there.

However, one peculiarity of the way in which UK forces operated when bringing prisoners to Camp Nama suggests that ministers and senior MoD officials may have had reason to know those detainees were at risk of mistreatment.

British soldiers were almost always accompanied by a lone American soldier, who was then recorded as having captured the prisoner.

Members of the SAS and SBS were repeatedly briefed on the importance of this measure.

It was an arrangement that enabled the British government to sidestep a Geneva convention clause that would have obliged it to demand the return of any prisoner transferred to the US once it became apparent that they were not being treated in accordance with the convention.

And it consigned the prisoners to what some lawyers have described as a legal black hole.

 

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