LONDON - British soldiers in Iraq kicked and punched hooded prisoners as they screamed for mercy, a witness to an incident in which one Iraqi detainee was allegedly beaten to death was quoted as saying.
The serving soldier, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Thursday's edition of The Sun newspaper he had been "sick to his stomach" after witnessing the beatings in the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
The Ministry of Defence said earlier this month that it was investigating the death of an Iraqi prisoner while in British custody following reports that he had been beaten to death.
According to The Sun, the dead man was among nine Iraqis held by the Queen's Lancashire Regiment on suspicion of being bandits last September, just a few weeks after the regiment lost one of its number to a roadside bomb.
The unnamed soldier said that when he visited the base's cell block he saw the prisoners stretched out or kneeling with hoods over their heads.
"Some of the lads were just coming up, booting them in the stomach and punching them," he told the paper.
"The moans and groans were going on for ages. The prisoners were pleading: 'Please stop, please stop.'"
The beatings continued over two days, with a number of troops shouting racist abuse at the prisoners -- who were prevented from sleeping or lying down -- as they kicked, punched and slapped them, the soldier said.
The soldier, who added that maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners was common, said he saw the dead prisoner after his hood had been pulled off.
"He had a big, swollen black eye, his nose was broken and it looked like his jaw had been dislocated. His face was bloody," the paper quoted him as saying.
"I feel sick to my stomach that I didn't do anything to save them, as I'm sure other people do," he said.
"It's something we will have to live with."
Earlier this month the Ministry of Defence said that British military police were investigating the death of the prisoner, which "inevitably will take time".
© Copyright 2004 AFP