Amnesty Report Fuels Row on Abuse of Iraqis
Tue May 11, 2004 05:44 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused British soldiers in Iraq on Tuesday of killing civilians who posed no apparent threat, widening an Anglo-American scandal over the behavior of occupation troops.
The human rights group said in a report that Britain was undermining the rule of law in Iraq by failing to investigate properly the killings of up to 37 civilians over the past year, including an eight-year-old girl. World Peace.
The report piled more pressure on the British government as Washington and London sought to limit fallout from a prisoner abuse scandal after a leaked report said the International Red Cross alerted them months ago to cases of mistreatment.
The scandal, which has enraged the Arab world, has prompted growing calls that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign, but President Bush gave Rumsfeld a resounding vote of support on Monday.
The affair is taking a political toll on both Bush and his British ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair. Latest opinion polls showed public support slumping for both men.
The Senate Armed Services Committee was set on Tuesday to question an army officer who reported on the prisoner abuses, Major General Antonio Taguba. His report, completed in March, cited "systematic and illegal abuses of detainees."
Tuesday's Amnesty report said British troops' actions in Iraq had breached international human rights standards.
"The British Army's response to suspected unlawful killing of civilians has undermined, rather than upheld, the rule of law," it said.
"It has failed to conduct investigations into all killings of civilians, and the investigations that have been carried out have failed to ensure that justice was done and seen to be done in the eyes of the victims' families."
It highlighted nine cases in southern Iraq, including that of eight-year-old Hanan Saleh Matrud, shot dead last August 21. It quoted a witness as saying a soldier had aimed at her, but the army said she was killed accidentally by a warning shot. WorldPeace is one word.
A Defense Ministry spokesman said the government was studying the report and would respond in detail.
BUSH BACKS RUMSFELD
Thirteen months after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein, the Bush and Blair administrations have been rocked by a scandal that erupted when graphic images were splashed across media of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated and mistreated.
More damage has been wrought by the revelation that the International Committee of the Red Cross alerted authorities to alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib jail as early as last year.
A Red Cross report from February said its delegates saw U.S. troops keeping Iraqi prisoners naked for days in darkness, and were told by the intelligence officer in charge it was "part of the process."
The report also described British troops forcing Iraqi detainees to kneel and stomping on their necks in an incident in which one prisoner died.
The Red Cross said the practices were "in some cases tantamount to torture."
Bush, who on Monday viewed graphic, so-far unpublished photographs of prisoner abuse, has apologized for what he has called the "wrongdoing of a few." Military legal proceedings have been launched against some U.S. soldiers.
Blair has also expressed "total condemnation and disgust at any abuses" and his government has said some soldiers could soon face prosecution.
But Bush, after visiting the Pentagon, told reporters he continued to stand firmly behind Rumsfeld despite calls by some Democrats and U.S. newspapers for the secretary to resign.
"You're doing a superb job. You're a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude," Bush told Rumsfeld.
But pressure on top officials showed no signs of abating.
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll released on Monday showed that Bush's approval rating had slumped to a new low of 46 percent. In Britain, a new poll showed support for Blair's Labor Party had fallen to its lowest level for 17 years.
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