Additional Iraqis sue state over torture

Three more Iraqi civilians seek retribution for alleged torture following arrest by Danish soldiers

Three additional Iraqis are suing Denmark for damages stemming from their treatment at the hands of Iraqi police after being handed over by Danish soldiers in November 2004.

The Iraqis’ lawyer, Christian Harlang, is seeking 50,000 kroner in compensation for each of his clients, according to Politiken newspaper. The newest case is in addition to six Iraqi citizens who are suing the state in connection with the same incident. Harlang anticipates that the cases of all nine Iraqis will be rolled into one class action suit to be heard by the Eastern High Court in November.

On 24 November 2004, Danish, British and Iraqi troops raided a site south of Basra and made 36 arrests. Iraqi civilians arrested during the raid claim they were handed over to Iraqi authorities and tortured. According to Politiken, the civilians were held in custody – some for a week and others for as many as two months – before all were released without being charged. The Iraqis say that they were beat, hung from hooks and electrocuted by Iraqi police forces.

The commander of the Danish battalion at that time, Colonel John Dalby, had insisted that only the British forces and Iraqi police arrested the civilians, but a previously undisclosed report written by him and dated 29 November 2004 documents that Danish forces were involved in the arrests.

In December, former defence chief Knud Bartles admitted in a letter to the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), that Danish soldiers in Iraq, beginning in 2003, detained Iraqi civilians and handed 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.

Under the conditions of the 1949 Geneva Convention, it is the responsibility of the country making arrests to ensure the prisoners are fairly treated. Therefore, Danish forces can be held responsible for arresting civilians and handing them over to Iraqi police, who then carry out torture.

The issue of Iraqi prisoners has been an ongoing political scandal for Denmark. Military brass were earlier implicated in providing false information to parliament on the number of Iraqi prisoners taken during by the miliary in Iraq.  A memo unearthed in early February revealed that the former head of Army Operational Command, Lieutenant Genera Poul Kiærskou, ordered  subordinates to lie about the number of prisoners. In response to an April 2007 question from parliament about the number of prisoners, HOK staffers prepared a response indicating there were at least 500 held by Danish forces. Kiærskou, however, ordered that the number be changed to 198, a figure that was then repeated numerous times by the previous two defence ministers, Søren Gade and Gitte Lillelund Bech. Kiærskou now faces an investigation and Gade is expected to be called to testify during the tria being brought by the Iraqis

“Søren Gade will testify about how much he, as the topmost responsible figure, knew about torture and to what extent the rules were followed,” Harlang told Berlingske newspaper in January.