Brits Launch Inquiry Into Torture, Executions of 20 Iraqis

LONDON - British troops may have killed up to 20 Iraqis in their custody in 2004, lawyers acting for the victims' families and others who are bringing a damages claim against the government said Friday.

The claims, strongly denied by the Ministry of Defence, are based on witness statements from five men who described what they heard happening to other people captured after a gun battle near the southern Iraqi town of Majar al-Kabir.

The witnesses had been forced to wear blacked-out goggles at the time but their statements describe how they heard other men screaming, moaning and choking as well as the sound of gunfire.

"I believed people were being killed. I have never heard anything like that sound ever before in my life," said one of those detained, Atiyah Sayid Abdelreza.

Speaking at a press conference, lawyer Phil Shiner, who is leading the damages lawsuit, said: "We would be very surprised if it (the claims) did not shock the nation."

He added: "It may be that none of this happened ... we need a public inquiry to establish the facts."

No post-mortem examinations took place on the 20 bodies, but Shiner's colleague Martyn Day said that the nature of their injuries seemed "highly unusual in a battlefield".

He questioned "how so many of the Iraqis sustained single gunshots to the head and from seemingly at close quarter, how did two of them end with their eyes gouged out, how did one have his penis cut off, some have torture wounds?"

The lawyers are seeking damages for five Iraqis -- Hussein Jabbari Ali, Hussain Fadhil Abass, Abdelreza, Madhi Jassim Abdullah and Ahmad Jabber Ahmood -- and the families of the dead.

The Ministry of Defence said that a 10 month investigation by the Royal Military Police into the incident, known as the Battle of Danny Boy, had found "no evidence" to support allegations of unlawful killing or mistreatment.

The BBC has made a television program examining the claims which is due to be broadcast Monday.

A spokesman said it had found "no proof" that prisoners died at the hands of their captors but added "the evidence is strongest that prisoners were mistreated."

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