LONDON – Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said Wednesday the military would not tolerate any abuse of Iraqi prisoners as new graphic photos depicting alleged mistreatment of detainees blared across the front pages of British newspapers.
The photos emerged during the courts martial of three British soldiers charged with abusing prisoners. Some of the pictures show a bound Iraqi being dangled over a loading dock by a forklift and two Iraqis stripped and forced to simulate sexual acts together.
"Everyone finds those photographs shocking and appalling and there are simply no other words to describe them," said Blair.
"The vast majority of those 65,000 British soldiers who have served in Iraq have done so with distinction, with courage and with great honor to this country. Whilst we express, in a unified way I know, our disgust at those pictures, I hope we do not allow that to tarnish the good name fully deserved of our British armed forces."
Newspapers on Wednesday raised concerns that the photos could be as damaging as the graphic images of mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib (search) prison near Baghdad.
Charles Kennedy, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said the photos were "liable to increase the difficulties and dangers for our existing troops, our good and honorable troops, within Iraq."
The photos were released by the military court at a British base in Osnabrueck, Germany where the three soldiers are on trial. The alleged mistreatment happened as British soldiers sought to re-establish order amid rampant looting in southern Iraq in spring 2003 after the U.S.-led invasion.
Lance Cpl. Darren Larkin (search), 30, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of battery after prosecutors alleged he was the man shown in one photo standing with both feet on a tied-up Iraqi lying on the ground.
Cpl. Daniel Kenyon, 33, and Lance Cpl. Mark Cooley, 25, pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Defense lawyers for the British soldiers sought to argue at their court-martial that the three had unclear guidance for dealing with common criminals as the army shifted from war to policing duties.
They argued the defendants acted under orders after the camp's commander allegedly issued a directive to make captured looters "work hard." Prosecutors have called the order unlawful.
A military lawyer, Lt. Col. Nicholas Mercer, testified Wednesday at the court that reports had been made earlier of mistreatment and that lawyers had to remind commanders in Iraqi to prevent assaults on detained civilians.
"A number of allegations were made that these people were not being treated as they should be," Mercer said. "We had heard of problems."
The men were charged after another soldier serving at the same base near Basra, southern Iraq, photographed the alleged abuse. Fusilier Gary Bartlam, 20, took a roll of film to be developed in his hometown of Tamworth, England, in May 2003 and the photo lab alerted police.
"Britain's Shame," said the Daily Mail headline Wednesday.
"Barbaric, Bullying, British," The Sun newspaper said, and printed photos of a British soldier standing on a prisoner, another squared up to kick a detainee, and two naked prisoners who apparently had been forced to simulate a sexual act.
"Whatever the explanation may be — and only the court-martial can decide — the photographs we publish today make a mockery of the moral case for a war supposedly fought in the cause of democracy, freedom and human rights," the Daily Mail said in an editorial.