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“Confession” indicates soldiers abetted torture
In a letter to the new defence minister Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), defence chief Knud Bartels has admitted that Danish soldiers in Iraq, beginning in 2003, detained more than 500 Iraqis, turning some of them over to Iraqi military authorities who were widely suspected of torturing and killing prisoners.
In the letter, Bartels also claimed that Danish soldiers systematically allowed British soldiers - with whom they were carrying out joint missions - to administrate the arrests in order to avoid incurring direct responsibility for the welfare of the detainees, reports Politiken newspaper.
“The letter also suggests that this was a pattern,” Hækkerup said when presenting the letter to Parliament’s defence committee on Thursday.
By international convention, soldiers may not turn a prisoner of war over to another authority if they suspect the detainee might be mistreated, tortured, or executed without due process.
As the Iraqi military was widely suspected of torturing detainees and also known to use capital punishment, the Danish troops had specific orders not to turn prisoners of war over to the Iraqi military.
Yet the information in Bartels’s letter suggests that the soldiers did just that and were actively complicit in allowing British soldiers to do so as well.
The new information directly contradicts earlier statements by the two former Venstre defence ministers, Søren Gade and Gitte Lillelund Bech, who both claimed that Danish soldiers arrested no more than 200 Iraqis.
Neither Gade nor Bech admitted that Danish soldiers turned detainees over to the Iraqi military. Nor did either volunteer the information that Danish soldiers allowed their British partners to administrate the arrests in order to avoid responsibility for registering detainees and ensuring their fair and humane treatment.
Bartels first became defence chief in 2009, after the alleged violations occurred, but Jesper Helsø, who was defence chief at the time, did not refute his successor's claims.
“I can’t see any reason to call the defence chief’s report into question. I don’t have any idea how he came up with 500 detainees. But it certainly depends on how you define ‘detainee’,” Helsø told Politiken.
In a press conference, Bech said she had no knowledge of the basis for Bartels's claims. She also emphasised that she herself launched an investigation last year to determine how many Iraqis were detained by Danish soldiers.
“I stressed to the defence chief that international convention regarding rules of war were to be followed to the letter,” she added.
However, it now appears that those rules may not have been followed, and that violations may have been swept under the rug, according to the Radikale’s defence spokesperson Zenia Stampe.
“This again shows that from A to Z there was something rotten about this war, and it’s no accident that this information is just coming out now,” Stampe said.
Enhedslisten’s defence spokesperson Frank Aaen said Bartels’s letter amounted to “a confession” of wrong-doing from the Danish Defence.
In recent years, a number of anonymous soldiers and Iraqis have come forward with claims that Danish soldiers took part in arrests in which Iraqis were mistreated or turned over to Iraqi military who tortured them.
Six Iraqis are currently suing the Defence Ministry for damages in connection with their alleged detainment in 2004 by Danish soldiers who turned them over to Iraqi military. According to the allegations, the Iraqi military then tortured the Iraqis by hanging them from hooks, beating them and giving them electrical shocks.
When the new Socialdemokraterne-Radikale-Socialistiske Folkeparti (S-R-SF) coalition assumed the government from the Venstre-Konservative coalition in October, they decided to appoint a commission to investigate Denmark’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It should be obvious to everyone now, including the previous administration, why such a commission is needed,” Hækkerup said on Thursday.
The commission is expected to begin its work in January.