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Al-Sweady inquiry: Soldier denies hitting Iraq detainees

The claims followed a major gun battle near Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq
Image caption The claims followed a major gun battle near Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq

A former British soldier has denied firing shots or hitting Iraqi detainees while questioning them after they were captured by troops in 2004.

The soldier told the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry he "categorically denied" hitting or physically threatening any of the nine detainees he interrogated.

The inquiry is investigating claims detainees were mistreated and killed at a British base after a battle.

The Ministry of Defence denies the allegations.

The soldier, who can only be identified as M004, told the inquiry that he did use a 1ft-long (30cm) pointed metal tent peg to bang on a table top and would shout and scream at detainees as part of his "tactical questioning" technique in Iraq.

The witness said he did not see this as excessive, although he was now aware from other public inquiries that it was unlikely that using a tent peg in this way would be "viewed as permissible".

The inquiry has heard claims from several Iraqi detainees that M004 had a pistol with him and fired two shots into the ground while they were being questioned in a tent at the British army camp.

'Horrendous racket'

There were also allegations by a detainee that the interrogator beat him with a metal pipe.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Iraqis were detained by the British after a fierce gun battle

But M004 said there was "no feasible way" that a shot could be fired in the tent without someone hearing it and it being reported.

It was likely the tent peg was on a table and a detainee could see that, but it was never used to strike a detainee, he said.

He agreed the use of the tent peg fell within the category of a "harsh" approach and he that he was trying to scare the detainees by making a sudden loud noise while the prisoner was blindfolded.

Banging the tent peg on the table behind the prisoner made a "horrendous racket" and would have been heard outside the interrogation tent and probably in the prisoner cell block, he said.

Some of the prisoners had physically jumped when he did it, he said. He agreed that the tent peg could be seen as a weapon.

He was not taught to use the tent peg in this way on a course he attended, M004 said, but he did not see it as outside his remit as a tactical questioner.

But he told counsel for the inquiry: "I believe nowadays that there is very little you could physically do without ending up sat in an inquiry".

Neck-blowing

The witness told the inquiry that when the Iraqi detainees arrived for questioning he would first walk behind them and blow on the back of their neck - a tactic he had been taught on a course.

Blowing on the detainee's neck allowed the interrogator to get inside the prisoner's personal space so that he could feel the questioner's presence, something which was "remarkably effective" he said.

M004 agreed that there was a pattern in his questioning of walking behind the detainee, blowing on the back of their neck, banging the tent peg down on the table and then screaming and shouting over their left shoulder and into their ear.

He had not been taught to consider that shouting at a man close up or striking a table with a tent peg so as to induce fear was violence.

The witness agreed that anything that fell short of physical contact or violence which made the prisoner feel uncomfortable was acceptable.

M004 said he would never threaten a prisoner with any form of beating or assault, but he might have told a detainee he would never see their family again.

"And they would probably have believed you?"asked counsel. "Yes sir, "said M004.

Set up in 2010, the inquiry is named after one of the Iraqi men, 19-year-old Hamid al-Sweady, who is alleged to have been unlawfully killed while being held after the so-called Battle of Danny Boy.

Lawyers acting for several Iraqi clients claim some were taken alive following the battle and mistreated or unlawfully killed at the nearby Camp Abu Naj (CAN) base.

The inquiry continues.

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