Blair apologizes for abuses in Iraq
British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized Sunday for any abuses committed by British soldiers in Iraq, and said those responsible would be punished.
As the government acknowledged it had known for months about claims that its troops abused Iraqi prisoners, lawmakers called for the publication of an International Committee of the Red Cross report detailing many of the allegations. Human rights group Amnesty International said it told British officials about reports of violence and torture a year ago.
"We apologize deeply to anyone who has been mistreated by any of our soldiers," Blair told French television during a visit to Paris. "That is absolutely and totally unacceptable. Those who are responsible for this, if they have behaved in this appalling way, they will be punished according to the army discipline and rules."
However, he added, "The activities of a few people who have brought shame to their situation should not detract from the work done by the vast majority."
Amnesty says it has been documenting "patterns of torture" by coalition troops in Iraq for more than a year.
The human rights group said Sunday it first warned the government last May that prisoners had been tortured, and at least one killed, in British custody. The group said it had held a series of meetings with Foreign Office and defense ministry officials over the past year.
"They said they would look into it and get back to us," said Amnesty's Middle East spokeswoman, Nicole Choueiry. "Since then, they did not get back to us."
The Ministry of Defense could not confirm when it was first told of the allegations. But a spokeswoman said the ministry had been "investigating cases of alleged abuse since way back into last year."
The ministry is investigating 33 cases in all, she said.
The Red Cross also has said it warned American officials of prisoner abuse in Iraq more than a year ago.
On Saturday, Blair's office said it had been shown the Red Cross report in February. Officials would not discuss its contents.
"I find it intolerable that all we know about this report is what has actually leaked in Washington," former foreign secretary Robin Cook told the British Broadcasting Corp. "Breakfast with Frost" program.
Cook, who resigned from Blair's Cabinet last year to protest the war in Iraq, said publishing the report was the only way to "see what independent people are saying about the problem and how severe it is."
Cook's call for publication was supported by Conservative Party co-chairman Liam Fox and Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell.
"Only total transparency and swift investigation will provide answers," Campbell said. "It is not only the integrity of the army which is at stake but the safety of those serving in Iraq."