London, 14 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Two weeks ago, Britain's "Daily Mirror" newspaper published photographs of hooded individuals being abused and urinated on by people in military uniforms inside a military vehicle.
The "Daily Mirror" claimed the photos -- which were published just days after images were broadcast of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees -- proved that British troops, too, were guilty of prisoner abuse in Iraq.
Since then, the British photos have become as notorious as their U.S. counterparts. They have been used on placards at anti-British demonstrations in a number of Muslim countries, and placed on defaced graves at a Commonwealth war cemetery in Gaza.
"We've known for several days now. My own paper, 'The Daily Telegraph,' reported on Tuesday of this week [11 May] that the pictures were in fact mocked up in a [army reserves] barracks in Preston"
But British officials say the photographs are fakes. British Army Minister Adam Ingram yesterday told parliament a military investigation had proven beyond a doubt the images were not authentic. "These pictures were categorically not taken in Iraq. Moreover, I can also tell the House [of Commons] that this is not only the opinion of the SIB [the army's Special Investigation Branch] investigators; it has been independently corroborated," Ingram said. "The truck in which the photographs were taken was never in Iraq."
Ingram went on to describe the damage the photographs had done -- both in harming British reputation and putting at risk the safety of British troops in Iraq. He said it was "deeply disturbing" that members of the media were prepared to "casually vilify our armed forces without first establishing the facts," and urged the "Daily Mirror" to admit the photos were fakes. "From the start of this episode, the 'Daily Mirror' has demanded that the MOD [Ministry of Defense] and the army operate under the highest of standards, both in honesty, openness, and professionalism," Ingram said. "I now challenge the 'Daily Mirror' to do the same."
But the paper's editor in chief, Piers Morgan, has refused to back down, saying Ingram has not proved irrefutably that the pictures were fakes. But Morgan also left room for doubt about the pictures' authenticity, saying only that they "accurately illustrated the reality" about the conduct of some British troops in Iraq.
Some observers have speculated that the "Daily Mirror," in refusing to accept claims of inauthenticity, is aiming to force the government to reveal what it knows about the extent of actual British military abuse of Iraqi detainees.
Michael Smith is the defense correspondent for Britain's "The Daily Telegraph," and has investigated the Queens Lancashire Regiment, which was accused of being behind the abuse. "We've known for several days now. My own paper, 'The Daily Telegraph,' reported on Tuesday of this week [11 May] that the pictures were in fact mocked up in a [army reserves] barracks in Preston [in Lancashire, England]," Smith said. "But, of course, [government] evidence forms part of the case against some of the soldiers involved [in faking the photographs], and therefore if the courts have to secure a conviction, the government is in a difficult position as far as revealing evidence."
The "Daily Mirror" case has stirred doubts about journalistic ethics and the role of media in wartime. Ruth Therrington is a lecturer in media at the University of Warwick, northwest of London. She said the scandal raises questions not only about journalists but editors and owners as well. "There is a line -- to what extent do you check your sources and check the facts before you run with the story? I think in the past there would have been more checking, there would have been more clarification, but because things are now so instantaneous -- with desktop publishing and the drive to catch a story straight away -- I think that perhaps some of these ethics have gone by the wayside," Therrington said.
The revelations about the faked photographs does not leave Britain entirely in the clear, however. The military is continuing its investigation into a case documented last year by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which an Iraqi man died after allegedly being beaten by British troops in Al-Basrah in September 2003.
The Danish Defense Ministry yesterday revealed that a pair of Danish Army medics working in a British field hospital saw two Iraqis beaten during a field interrogation being admitted to the clinic. The report says the two Iraqis had been "exposed to brutal treatment during an unauthorized interrogation in the field by a British unit." One of the two Iraqis reportedly died after being admitted to the hospital.
The British Defense Ministry said late yesterday it believed the case referred to was that of Baha Mousa, the man whose death is currently under investigation.
The human rights watchdog Amnesty International this week also issued a report alleging that the British military has failed to investigate cases in which soldiers killed Iraqi civilians. The Amnesty report accuses British troops of shooting civilians where there was no apparent threat. An eight-year-old girl was among those killed by British fire.