Dead Men Left

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Here's interesting. The Independent despatched three journalists to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment's base town of Accrington to look into squaddies' reactions to the Mirror photos apparently showing an Iraqi man being tortured and abused by QLR soldiers. They report that talk of beatings and the maltreatment of Iraqi prisoners is commonplace - even a source of boasts:

'On the other hand, neither the Ministry of Defence nor Downing Street raised any but the most formulaic of doubts as a full-scale inquiry was launched. In Accrington, the town where the regiment implicated is based, the reaction of old soldiers, saddened by what they had seen, was that they were genuine. Some of those who heard rogue squaddies bragging in the Accrington working men's club about the treatment they had dished out to Iraqi prisoners did not like what they were listening to.

Some of the younger ones seemed to think that tales of bullying and torture were a good laugh. Veterans of the conflict in Northern Ireland and the cold war found it stomach-turning.

"I told their ringleader it was unspeakable. Absolutely out of order," said Anthony "Sam" Quinn, 35, a former grenadier guardsman who served in Northern Ireland and Berlin. He added: "They were sitting round practising their Iraqi phrases. They showed us the pictures. It caused big trouble. One of them said: 'Don't get them out in here.'" '

Other reports suggest that "trophy" photographs - like the ones the Mirror printed - are in wide circulation amongst troops. To suppose, with those "sources close to the Queen's Lancashire Regiment" that the photos are faked, we are presented with the enormous (and presumably unaswerable) question as to who forged the horrible scenes, and for what purpose. Any answer, any answer at all, would seem to hinge upon such a vast conspiracy that it appears almost immediately beyond credibility. Certainly, none of the suggested "discrepancies" seem overwhelming: as if, for instance, troops about to beat and abuse a prisoner would be fussy about their headgear, or their bootlaces. We might also wonder why the photographs were not immediately dismissed by the senior army figures dragged out on Friday evening; or why the army has now seen fit to mount a thorough investigation of the QLR.

Perhaps not. Perhaps the "suspiciously shiny" gun-barrels and untucked trousers add up to a sinister plot to discredit UK troops. However, even if the Mirro photos are faked, there would certainly appear to be both pictures - genuine pictures, we might assume - circulating amongst at least some UK troops, and there are more than enough reports from Iraqis (if anyone bothers to ask) about systematic torture and abuses by coalition forces to merit an extremely significant concern. But it is utterly, tragically predictable; abuse and degradation are the meat-and-drink of colonial occupations. The record of the British in India, or the French in Algeria, or the US in Vietnam - they all have their own miserable tales.

In each case, the colonialists were thrown out. And in Iraq, the simplest, most obvious - and probably the only plausible - solution is to remove coalition troops. By all accounts, the "coalition" is steadily removing itself: the Ukranians, for example, being the most recent in refusing to leave their barracks. Iraq should be for the Iraqis, and governed by the Iraqis.