Abusing Iraqis: How much is enough?

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Telegraph photo/News of the World

Yesterday's front page of the News of the World (U.K.)

Even for Britain's sex-and-scandal-loving tabloids, yesterday's alarming front-pager in the News of the World came with a mixture of titillation and a genuine sense of unease.

"The horrifying scenes on these pages will shock the world and ignite a huge military scandal," the paper declared in a report about the apparent abuse of civilians two years ago by British troops stationed in Basra, in southern Iraq. Back in March 2004, riots around Basra over job shortages turned violent. Protesters threw stones and homemade bombs at British troops. "In a standard tactic adopted in Northern Ireland and now used by Britain's 8500-strong force in Iraq, snatch squads were sent out to arrest the ringleaders." (Guardian)

The News of the World cited a videotape that has surfaced showing how British troops apparently mistreated some of the demonstrators they apprehended during the Basra flare-ups. "Today we expose a rogue squad of British soldiers who savagely attacked a defenseless bunch of Iraqi teenagers - and...brought shame on our nation and its proud army," the paper reported. It described and presented still pictures from the video, which had "apparently [been] filmed for 'fun'" by a British corporal; the tape showed his comrades beating several Iraqi teenagers "senseless with vicious blows from batons, boots and fists" - and enjoying it.

The News of the World noted that, in the video, the soldiers can be seen, "[i]gnoring [the Iraqis'] pitiful pleas for mercy, until the incident climaxes with what appears to be an [non-commissioned officer] delivering a sickening, full-force kick in the genitals of a cringing lad pinned to the ground. All the while the callous cameraman delivers a stomach-churning commentary urging his mates on, cackling with laughter and screaming: 'Oh yes! Oh yes! You're gonna get it. Yes, naughty little boys! You little f***ers, you little f***ers. DIE! Ha, ha!'"

In another sequence, "the camera approaches an Iraqi corpse while a soldier draws back a blanket to display it as a sickening trophy. The cameraman then commits an act considered the ultimate insult to an Iraqi - and kicks the dead man twice in the face, humiliating him in death." As the twenty-something man's head "is lifted to face the lens, a soldier sniggers: 'He's been a bad mother****er.'"

The newspaper explained that the video had been brought forward by "a disgusted whistleblower" after it was shown to its maker's "pals at their home base in Europe." The whistleblower told the paper: "These Iraqis were just kids. Most haven't even got shoes on." (Copyright rules prohibit reproduction of the News of the World's video stills, but they can be seen here).

Advising that "caution is in order" when digesting this latest "tabloid shocker," especially since fake abuse pictures have turned up in the U.K. press before, Britain's Guardian nevertheless lamented that images from the News of the World's tape had been "quickly broadcast on TV across the Arab and Muslim worlds," making for "a grim addition to a catalog of violence that for many represents an indictment of Western policy in the region." News analyst Peter Beaumont, writing in the Guardian's sister publication, the Observer, notes of the latest allegations of abuse by Iraq's foreign occupiers: "What is particularly disturbing the level of dehumanization of the Iraqi people that British and American troops were sent to liberate."

Today's Guardian reports that a spokesman for the leader of Al-Fadhila, an Islamic party that is strong in Basra, said that he and his colleagues "were 'shocked but not surprised' by news of the video. He added: 'Many of our supporters have reported ill treatment at the hands of some of the British forces. I don't think they would behave that way in Britain. Why do we deserve it?'"

Britain's Ministry of Defense has launched an investigation of the alleged abuse of Iraqis in Basra. (Telegraph) British Prime Minister Tony Blair responded to the news of the videotape by saying, "We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment, and those will be investigated very fully indeed." He asserted that the "overwhelming majority" of U.K. soldiers in Iraq have "behaved properly" and have done a "great job for our country and for the wider world." (Press Association/Scotsman)

In its own editorial , the News of the World seemed to agree. Still, it noted, "Those responsible for the events we depict must be identified and brought to book. Our troops simply cannot be allowed to behave in this way - however bad the provocation."