Dozens of prisoners held at a secret British army interrogation centre in Iraq claim they suffered unlawful physical and mental abuse similar to that carried out by the US on detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
Inmates at the high-security compound within the Shaibah base say they were held in solitary confinement and forced to wear dark goggles and earmuffs when taken from their cells for questioning.
The Ministry of Defence came under pressure yesterday to order an inquiry into allegations that soldiers used the banned “five techniques” of interrogation on civilian detainees.
It is investigating allegations from more than 30 former prisoners that they were also prevented from sleeping during days of intense questioning; were forced to adopt painful stress positions; and were refused food and water. Hundreds of prisoners were held at the Divisional Temporary Detention Facility compound run by the Joint Forward Interrogation Team at the Shaibah base, 13 miles from Basra in southern Iraq. After being interrogated while in solitary confinement, many were moved to the “general population” where they were often held for many months.
Lawyers acting for former detainees, who were all released without charge, say that similarities in their accounts show that the mistreatment must have been authorised by senior officers.
Abbas Mowannis Abdul Ali, 34, was arrested in January 2006 when 50 British soldiers forced their way into his house. He says he was forced to wear goggles and earmuffs and was repeatedly forced to adopt stress positions and run in zig-zags to disorientate him until he collapsed.
During eight days in solitary confinement in a tiny cell, he claims guards prevented him from sleeping by kicking his door and loudly playing pornographic films. He also says he received little water or food.
Sami Hatem Jassim was arrested in May 2007 and held in solitary confinement at Shaibah for 38 days. He claims that each time he was seen sleeping or trying to sleep he would be handcuffed, made to wear dark goggles and forcibly walked around for a mile.
Ramzi Sagar Hasssan, 34, a car mechanic, was arrested during a raid on a friend’s house in April 2007. He was held in solitary confinement for 21 days in a cell in which a light bulb was always on.
He said during the first ten days he was interrogated five times a day, and was forced to stay awake during this time. “During the intervals between the interrogation, the soldiers would not let me sleep,” he said in a witness statement. “The moment that I fell asleep they would send me for interrogation. The light in my isolation cell was always on. The soldiers stopped me from covering my face. If I did not uncover my face, the soldier would open the door and take me for punishment.”
Hussain Hasim Khinyab, 35, a carpenter, was arrested in April 2006 and said he was kept in solitary confinement at Shaibah for ten days. He claims he was interrogated on many occasions, each time he was earmuffed, blindfolded and handcuffed before being dragged in a zig-zag fashion by three soldiers.
Sam Jacobs, of Public Interest Lawyers, which is representing the former prisoners, said the similarity of their accounts of detention at Shaibah was compelling evidence suggesting systematic mistreatment. He said the detainees only felt safe coming forward now after the withdrawal of British Forces from Iraq.
“We know [the British Forces] were under pressure from the United States to obtain more information from detainees. The techniques seen at Shaibah are similar to those used by the US in Guantánamo Bay,” he said.
“These techniques must have been approved at the highest level, because they were used so widely over a lengthy period. The only way get to the bottom of what happened — to prevent it happening again — is for an open inquiry.”
Bill Rammell, the Armed Forces Minister, said that all claims would be investigated but that allegations did not mean fact. He said the claims did not warrant a new public inquiry and there was no credible evidence that endemic abuse was a coherent part of the way the military operated.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “The ‘five techniques’ are banned as an aid to interrogation and this is now clearly explained to all our personnel during training and before deployment on operations.
“If individuals are found to have abused or mistreated Iraqi civilians they will face severe consequences.”