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British soldier testifies against comrades

Juergen Voges Associated Press

OSNABRUECK, Germany – British troops laughed and joked as they made two Iraqi men simulate sex acts after detaining them for looting, a soldier testified Thursday at the court-martial of three comrades accused of mistreating civilians.

Fusilier Gary Bartlam, who photographed the alleged abuse at a British base outside Basra in 2003 – sparking the scandal – seemed nervous at first and spoke haltingly as he faced his former colleagues for the first time in court.

The photos, taken after soldiers rounded up looters who stole humanitarian aid stockpiled at the base, included an images of naked detainees and of a tied-up Iraqi hoisted on a forklift, shocking Britain when they first emerged in court.

Bartlam, 20, said he went to his quarters after the roundup. When he re-emerged, he saw two naked Iraqis with soldiers around them being forced into sexual poses, he said.

“People were laughing, bantering, joking around about what they were doing,” he said. Those watching included Cpl. Daniel Kenyon, 33, the highest-ranking of the three defendants and the commander of Bartlam’s anti-tank platoon, Bartlam said.

About 15 minutes earlier, he said, Kenyon was standing next to a bound Iraqi lying on the dusty ground and asked Bartlam to get some water. Bartlam said he complied, then poured water on the man to refresh and clean him.

Another defendant, Lance Cpl. Mark Cooley, 25, drove the forklift, Bartlam said.

Kenyon, Cooley and Lance Cpl. Darren Larkin, 30, are charged in the alleged abuse at the aid warehouse being guarded by British troops in southern Iraq in May 2003.

Kenyon and Cooley have pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them, while Larkin has pleaded guilty to one count of battery and not guilty to other counts.

Bartlam, whose rank is the equivalent of private, brought his film back to England to be developed, and the photo lab called the police. He was convicted separately of charges related to the incidents, but the judge imposed reporting restrictions on details of his trial.

Kenyon’s lawyer accused Bartlam on Thursday of lying and ridiculed him for telling the court that he took the photos to show to his parents.

“You were from start to finish the prime mover,” lawyer Joseph Giret asserted. He claimed prosecutors dropped four counts charging Bartlam with actively taking part in the abuse as part of a plea bargain. Prosecutors did not immediately respond.

Bartlam said Thursday that his unit believed they were supposed to show captured civilians that day that “we do mean business,” based on an order he said Kenyon passed along the day before.

Kenyon told the unit to take poles used to hold up camouflage netting with them for their protection and to “beast” the Iraqis, Bartlam testified, using a slang term for making the captives work hard.

The compound’s commander, Maj. Dan Taylor, has said he gave an order to capture looters and “work them hard” by making them pick up garbage and bring stolen food supplies to a collection point in the compound.

Taylor has sought to portray the defendants as rogue soldiers who exceeded his order without his knowledge.

Defense lawyers argue that Taylor’s instructions to his men were so vague they invited misunderstanding, and that he encouraged an undisciplined atmosphere by telling soldiers to wear track suits instead of uniforms so they could better chase looters.

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