COPENHAGEN, Denmark – A Danish army officer was accused by military prosecutors Thursday of allegedly denying food and water to detainees in Iraq (search), forcing them to sit in "painful positions" and verbally humiliating them.
The preliminary charges against Capt. Annemette Hommel (search), 37, stem from four alleged incidents between March and June during her tour of duty at a Danish military camp in southern Iraq. Hommel, an intelligence officer, and Col. Henrik Flach (search), the head of Denmark's 496-soldier deployment in Iraq, were ordered home this week because of the allegations.
The accusations were first reported Monday by the Ekstra Bladet newspaper and confirmed by the government.
The abuse allegations have raised concerns about Denmark's participation in U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, but Defense Minister Soeren Gade vowed Thursday not to pull the contingent out of the country.
Military prosecutor Peter Otken said detainees being questioned by Hommel were "forced to sit in stressing and eventually painful positions and maintained with force to stay in these positions." The detainees also were verbally humiliated and denied food and water.
Military prosecutors said they found four separate instances of Hommel mistreating detainees.
But Otken said the abuse was not physical.
"There are no suspicions that they were beaten or kicked," Otken said.
Under Danish law, the preliminary charges are a step short of formal charges. Prosecutors believe they have enough evidence to send Hommel's case to court, where she would be formally charged.
Hommel said the accusations against her were false.
"I have absolutely not done any of this," she told The Associated Press. "This is an untrue claim."
Hommel said tensions with the camp's Palestinian civilian translators were to blame.
Interviewing Iraqi insurgents "has not been a chat session," she said. "These were serious conversations about serious issues."
Hommel admitted denying water to a detainee and forcing him to sit on the floor during a one-hour interview, but she said her actions were well within the confines of the Geneva Conventions protecting prisoners of war.
"I don't feel that my personal integrity has let me down. I have respected all the existing rules," she said.
Denmark's soldiers serve in Basra and nearby Qurnah, 250 miles southeast of Baghdad, and are under British command.
Besides Flach, the commanding officers of the contingent's military police, intelligence and legal teams were all dismissed Tuesday as the probe into the alleged mistreatment of detainees widened.
Gade cited the officers' "lack of judgment" as a reason for their dismissal.
On June 9, Hommel and three other officers questioned a member of the militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr suspected of planning to ambush Danish soldiers, she said. She did not identify the suspect, but said he earlier had been detained by soldiers for putting up illegal roadblocks in the area.
"He was bold as brass and did his best to dodge in every way my questions and started to ask for water," Hommel said, adding that she refused to give it to him during the one-hour interrogation session.
"There was no serious physical need for water. It was an obstruction mechanism."
The camp's translators, all Palestinian-born civilians, misinterpreted her reasoning and complained about the treatment to Flach in a letter, she said.
"It becomes a problem when the (female) interpreter steps out of her role and insists that (the man) needs water," Hommel said.
Hommel said she and other intelligence officers had "a stormy relationship" with the three interpreters, who are Danish citizens working for the military under civilian contracts. They have no prior military experience.
"Their education is insufficient and people who are sent out (to assignments), they don't understand, become confused and do not accept the military system," said Hommel, a trained linguist who speaks Russian and Polish fluently.
Maj. Joergen Harbro of the Danish military academy said civilian translators underwent six weeks of training that included lessons on military tradition and protocol.