Iraqis suing for complicity in torture

New evidence implicates the Army in the handing over of civilians to Iraqi army forces who mistreated them while in custody

A group of Iraqi civilians is suing Denmark for damages after they say they were arrested by Army forces and handed over to Iraqi authories and tortured, reports Politiken newspaper.

The 36 arrests occurred on 24 November 2004 when Danish, British and Iraqi troops raided a site south of Basra.

But while the former leader of the Danish battalion, Colonel John Dalby, insists only the Brits and Iraqi police arrested the civilians, a previously undisclosed report written by him and dated 29 November 2004 documents that Danish forces were involved in an operation south of Basra which involved a series of raids and arrests.

Five Iraqis will file a lawsuit in the coming weeks against the Defence Ministry seeking compensation for being tortured as a result of being handed over by Danish forces to the Iraqi forces.

Interviews by Politiken with two of the arrested Iraqi civilians supported these events.

“Everyone in town was used to seeing soldiers,” one of the Iraqis said. “And the soldiers who arrested me had Danish flags on the shoulders of their uniforms and on their vehicles it stated they were from Denmark.”

The Iraqi civilians explained that after they were arrested they were handed over to the Iraqi police, who beat them, hung them from hooks and electrocuted them.

The 1949 Geneva Convention states that it is the responsibility of the country making the arrest to ensure the prisoners are fairly treated.

If Danish forces arrested civilians and handed them over to the Iraqi police, then the military can be held responsible for their treatment.

Army officials have repeatedly denied that Danish troops arrested the Iraqis, stating that it was the Iraqi police who made the arrests.

“We were supporting an Iraqi operation,” Dalby told Politiken. “They were responsible for the arrests and afterwards we and searched for weapons with the Brits. My people could have been inside the houses, but I’m very sure that none of my people arrested anyone. Nor did we interrogate anyone, the Brits were responsible for that before the Iraqis took away the prisoners.”

Dalby added that the decision by Danish forces not to arrest civilians during operation Green Desert was their own idea in order to absolve them of responsibility if the prisoners were subsequently sentenced to the death penalty, which is allowed in Iraq.

But even if Danish soldiers did not make any arrests, the military may still be at fault, according to the terms of a 2001 decision by a UN human rights commission. The decision found that the state that ordered the arrest could also be held responsible even if its forces didn’t physically carry out the order.

“If the Danes ask the Brits or Iraqis to make an arrest, then the arrest is actually made by Denmark and then the argument that Denmark has no responsibility crumbles.” Peter Vedel Kessing, a human rights expert at Institut for Menneskerettigheder, told Politiken.

Amnesty International also argued that Denmark holds a share of the responsibility if torture took place.

“When you know how widespread torture is in Iraqi jails you have to take responsibility for the fact that it’s highly likely the people you arrest will be tortured,” Lars Normann Jørgensen, secretary general of Amnesty International Denmark, told Politiken.

The Defence Ministry established the Iraq Taskforce last year to investigate Denmark’s treatment of prisoners during the Iraq war after Information newspaper published details which showed the Army had handed over prisoners to the Iraqi police.

But after the new Danish government established a commission to investigate Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq war, the work of the Iraq Taskforce was suspended. Whether the commission intends to take over the work of the Iraq Taskforce is unclear.