Defence Ministry probes Iraqi torture claims

WORLD|AFP An investigation has been launched into allegations that British soldiers tortured Iraqi civilians, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Friday.

The announcement of the probe came after the Independent newspaper said 33 cases of alleged abuse had been reported, including claims of rape, the use of torture techniques and physical assault.

The newspaper said the civilians claimed British soldiers in Iraq copied sexual and physical abuse from photographs taken at the notorious US-run Abu Ghraib jail in Baghdad, which emerged in 2004.

A legal letter was served on the ministry last week by a lawyer representing the Iraqis, the report said.

Britain’s armed forces minister Bill Rammell said “formal investigations” must be carried out “without judgments being made prematurely”.

He added: “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.

“While there have been instances when individuals have behaved badly, only a tiny number of individuals have been shown to have fallen short of our high standards.

“Allegations of this nature 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.”

In the letter to the ministry, reported in the newspaper, lawyer Phil Shiner said: “Given the history of the UK’s involvement in the development of these techniques alongside the US, it is deeply concerning that there appears to be strong similarities between instances of the use of sexual humiliation.”

One claimant alleges he was raped by two British soldiers, while others say they were striped naked, abused and photographed between 2003 and 2007, the Independent reported.

Female British soldiers are alleged to have taken part in the alleged incidents.

Camp Bucca near Basra in southern Iraq, where British and US troops worked alongside each other, was named by the newspaper as one possible scene of the alleged abuse.

In September 2003, Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa died after suffering 93 injuries, including fractured ribs and a broken nose, while in British military custody in Basra, southern Iraq. A public inquiry into the case is taking place in London.

Photographs taken at Abu Ghraib showed naked and hooded prisoners being beaten until they bled by their US guards and made to commit humiliating acts such as simulated homosexual intercourse.

In 2006, then US President George W. Bush admitted the scandal was the biggest blunder Washington had made in its entire Iraq campaign, and the facility was closed and handed over to Iraqi control.

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The US gets seven Colombian bases

The US is to open seven military bases in Colombia. The deal was sealed in Bogota today, a relatively swift passage to signature after the idea was only suggested at the end of August.

America has the green light for a deployment of 800 service personnel and 600 civilians.

Just the August offer was enough to spark a fierce regional response, but it was made after neighbour Ecuador demanded the US close its only base there.

The US and Colombia are struggling with drugs barons and a counter-insurgency campaign, and Manta’s closure robbed their forces of surveillance flights over the Pacific and elsewhere.

Now one of the new bases gets a heavy lifter runway for C5 Galaxies. All are on a 10-year lease.
Ecuador and fellow left-wing neighbour Venezuela are the twitchiest over this military build-up, with Hugo Chavez particularly vocal in his criticisms. He has recently obtained nearly 100 Russian tanks and rocket launchers with money borrowed from Russia.

Blast investigated at Hezbollah home in Lebanon

Euronews-Lebanese security sources say five people were killed in an explosion at the home of a Hezbollah official in southern Lebanon.

Military personal were sent to the scene to investigate after suspicions were raised that munitions may have been stored in the building and exploded accidentally.

Both the official and his son are said to have died in the incident which happened within the area of UN peacekeeping operations.

Hezbollah has since denied that anyone was killed although they have said one person was wounded.

Israel claims the blast is evidence of the group stockpiling arms and is in violation of the truce which ended hostilities in 2006.

Both Israel and the US have accused Hezbollah of undermining peacekeeping efforts in the area.

16 hurt in Russian army beatings

euronews channel-New reports have surfaced about the brutal conditions endured by young soldiers in the Russian army. 16 recruits needed hospital treatment after what officers said was a road crash. But two of them have deserted their base near St Petersburg because they can no longer bear the violence inflicted by their drunken sergeants.

“They woke us at four in the morning and started to beat us,” said deserter Vladimir Romanov. “First me, then all the others. It went on til nine o’clock. Then they told me to bring them 3,000 roubles or they’d kill me.”

An inquiry’s been launched and the prosecutor’s office is yet to decide whether to start criminal action. Investigators say the sergeants could be dismissed from the army if found guilty.

Casual violence is rife in the Russian military. The paper Pravda estimates that 16 per cent of new recruits – 3,000 young men – die or commit suicide in their first year. In 2006, one soldier was so badly injured his legs and genitals were amputated.

EU and US at odds over Afghanistan

When it came the call was loud and clear. US General Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, wants a major shift in strategy to battle the Taliban and he needs 40,000 more troops and equipment to do it.

But where are they coming from?

euronews channel-Its a dilemma for the Obama administration as the Europeans look to be stepping back from the fray as casualties mount, costs soar and public opinion begins to dip.

The US president held talks with NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen and made a clear point.

“This is not an American battle. This is a NATO mission as well. And we are working actively and diligently to consult with NATO every step of the way.”

Europe’s defence ministers are meeting in Gothenburg and what to do in Afghanistan is high on the agenda.

The blocs foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, indicated that the EU would wait for the results of the Afghan election before committing to any new Afghan plan.

As it stands 68,000 US soldiers are in Afghanistan backed by 35,000 from other countries, mostly Europe.

40 percent of US generals back the call for a 40,000 troop surge.

Europe wants 17,000 instructors to train 13,000 Afghan soldiers and 80,000 police.

Caught in the middle is President Obama while his top brass want extra firepower his main allies lean toward a training strategy.

General McChrystal gave his reasons for wanting a speedier end to a difficult conundrum.

“We need to reverse the current trend and time does matter. Waiting does not prolong a favourable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, public support will not last indefinitely.”

He is not alone in his thinking, General Henri Bentegeat, who heads the EU’s Military Committee, says its not a problem of troop shortages but a lack of political will that is keeping Europe from deploying more military in the country.

EU Ministers are set to grasp this nettle again at a formal meeting in Brussels in November.

Danish soldier killed in Helmand

A Danish soldier has been killed in Afghanistan and another injured after their patrol came under fire from insurgents.

The two troops were immediately evacuated by helicopter, but one was declared dead at hospital.
Danish army officials say the attack took place in the southern province of Helmand – the scene of some of Afghanistan’s most deadly violence.

Denmark currently has around 700 troops in the country most of whom serve under British command.

In Afghanistan since 2001, Denmark has proportionally suffered the heaviest losses compared to other allies in the NATO led mission.