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British troops may have executed up to 20 captives in southern Iraq in 2004, human rights lawyers claimed today.
A dossier of evidence from men taken captive after a gun battle near the Iraqi town of Majat-al-Kabir in May 2004 also suggested soldiers tortured and mutilated captives.
Lawyers for five Iraqis today issued detailed witness statements, photographs of corpses and death certificates of the men who died. The allegations first emerged within weeks of the incident and have since been investigated by the Royal Military Police.
The claims, which the Ministry of Defence denies, are among the most serious yet levelled against British soldiers who served in Iraq.
Solicitor Phil Shiner said: "There is the clearest evidence available of systematic abuse and systematic failings at the very highest levels of politicians, the civil service and the military."
He added: "Until we as a nation face up to this evidence we cannot hope for the fundamental reforms required to ensure these things can never happen again.
"We do not want to be talked about in the same vein as the Japanese in the second world war or the Americans at My Lai, but unless we stand up and say as a nation that this cannot happen in our name, that is where we seem to be headed."
The soldier, Ben Griffin, quit the elite Special Air Service (SAS) in protest at what he said were US abuses in Iraq, BBC's website reported.
He left the SAS in 2005 after taking part in operations in the Persian Gulf and said that British soldiers detained suspected extremists and interrogated them before handing them over to the US military.