LONDON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - A former British military intelligence officer denied at a public inquiry on Thursday that he had made death threats and fired shots while questioning Iraqi detainees in 2004.
He described shouting and using a tent peg to bang on a table as part of a range of methods to disorient detainees and maintain the “shock of capture”, but denied beating or physically threatening the Iraqis.
The man, referred to only as “M004” because of his intelligence background, was giving evidence at the long-running Al-Sweady inquiry into events during and after a battle in southern Iraq on May 14, 2004.
It is trying to get to the bottom of allegations by local Iraqis that British soldiers captured up to 20 men alive and later killed them at an army camp, and separately that they mistreated up to nine detainees.
The British soldiers say the 20 died fighting on the battlefield, and deny any mistreatment.
The Al-Sweady inquiry is one element of a legacy of allegations dating back to the Iraq war that haunt Britain almost five years after the British military officially ended its mission there.
The witness known as M004 had no involvement with the deaths of any Iraqis during the disputed events of May 14, 2004, so his evidence was confined to the issue of the treatment of detainees.
He said he had carried out “tactical questioning” of all nine detainees who were brought to the Camp Abu Naji military base after the battle.
M004 denied that any of the detainees were threatened with death or beaten by him or by anyone else, and said he would never have allowed a firearm in the tent, let alone fired one.
He said that since the abuse of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad had become public earlier that year, it was widely known in Iraq that Western troops would get into trouble for such practices.
As a result, he said, it was necessary to do things like shout and bang the tent peg to achieve what was known as “dislocation of expectation”. The idea was to maintain detainees in a state of uncertainty so they would not feel too comfortable and clam up.
The witness said that everything he did in the tent was in accordance with British army rules at the time, although the rules had changed since then as a result of previous inquiries into events in Iraq.
“I believe nowadays there is very little you could physically do without ending up sat in an inquiry,” he said.
The inquiry is due to publish its findings at the end of this year, after hearing evidence from 60 Iraqi witnesses and about 200 British military witnesses.
Last week, human rights lawyers and campaigners formally asked the International Criminal Court to investigate allegations of widespread torture of Iraqi detainees by the British. It is not known whether the court will take the matter forward. (email@example.com; editing by Ralph Boulton)