OSNABRUECK, Germany – A judge asked British officials Thursday to restrain their comments about the court-martial of three British soldiers accused of mistreating Iraqi detainees after Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) denounced abuse depicted in graphic photos as "shocking and appalling."
Blair made the comments in the House of Commons, referring to photos released in the military court that show alleged acts of mistreatment and have caused widespread dismay in Britain after they were published on newspaper front pages.
Judge Michael Hunter acknowledged that Blair had been asked about the case by lawmakers and "could not sensibly refuse to make such a statement."
"But I would ask that great care be taken by those who find it necessary to make public statements not to say anything that might prejudice the fairness of the trial," Hunter said in court at a British base in Osnabrueck, Germany.
If officials must comment, "I would suggest that legal advice be sought beforehand," he said.
Blair's Downing Street office said it had taken "full note" of the judge's comments and welcomed his recognition that Blair was responding to questions. A Blair spokesman said the prime minister had consulted with parliamentary officials about how to respond to questions about the case.
Blair used exactly the same adjectives to describe the photos as the trial's chief prosecutor.
Hunter's remarks followed a morning of legal arguments that interrupted testimony in the case. Under court rules aimed at ensuring a fair trial, those legal arguments may not be reported.
The trial revolves around photos taken by a soldier from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (search) who was arrested in England after bringing the film to be developed.
Some of the photos show a bound Iraqi being dangled over a loading dock by a forklift, another being subjected to a simulated kick and a simulated punch, and both Iraqis stripped and forced to feign sexual acts together.
The pictures have provoked uncomfortable comparisons with the scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison (search) in Baghdad.
The mistreatment allegedly happened in May 2003 at an aid warehouse compound outside Basra where the three soldiers were posted after British forces moved into southern Iraq.
Lance Cpl. Darren Larkin (search), 30, has pleaded guilty to one count of battery after prosecutors alleged he was the man shown in a photo standing with both feet on a tied-up Iraqi lying on the ground. He has pleaded not guilty on other charges.
Lance Cpl. Mark Cooley, 25, is charged with tethering the detainee to the forklift and simulating a kick and a punch against the other detainee, seen in two separate photos. He has pleaded not guilty.
Cpl. Daniel Kenyon (search), 33, the highest-ranking defendant, has pleaded not guilty to several counts of failing to report abuse to superiors.