The commander of three British servicemen accused of mistreating Iraqi detainees testified Friday that he told soldiers to make their prisoners “work hard” picking up garbage but saw no abuse.
A Danish army captain and four military police sergeants, meanwhile, were formally charged with mistreating Iraqi detainees at a military camp near Basra last year.
The British case has provoked uncomfortable comparisons with the scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad — particularly when graphic photos emerged depicting naked prisoners apparently undergoing abuse from British soldiers.
The mistreatment allegedly happened in May 2003 at an aid warehouse compound outside Basra where the three soldiers were posted after British forces moved into southern Iraq. The allegedly abused Iraqis had been detained for looting.
Defense lawyers argue that the three were following orders by Maj. Dan Taylor, their commander in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, to make detainees “work hard.” They say the defendants had unclear legal guidance on how to treat common criminals as the army shifted from combat to a policing role.
Prosecutors have said the “work hard” order was illegal, but argue the soldiers should have known it was wrong to abuse detainees.
Taylor testified Friday that he ordered the soldiers to get tough on looters after the situation got so bad even warning shots would not keep thieves away from the warehouse.
“We seemed to have an increasing number of looters in there. Nothing made any difference,” Taylor testified during the soldiers’ court-martial at a British base in Germany.
Taylor said he came up with a plan he dubbed Operation Ali Baba to deter stealing.
“I was going to talk to them, they were then going to be given some work to do, we would talk to them again, and they were then going to leave the complex,” Taylor said.
He said he cleared his crackdown order with a superior officer. He said he later he walked by as the captives were cleaning up garbage and saw no abuse. He said he didn’t think at the time that his order was illegal.
“I didn’t believe it was breaking any laws or regulations,” he said.
The trial revolves around photos taken by a soldier from Royal Regiment of Fusiliers who was arrested in England after bringing the film to be developed.