By Robert Kellaway
TODAY we expose a rogue squad of British soldiers who savagely attacked a defenceless bunch of Iraqi teenagers —and with 42 brutal blows brought shame on our nation and its proud army.
The horrifying scenes on these pages will shock the world and ignite a huge military scandal.
They were captured on a secret home video — apparently filmed for "fun" by a corporal—and show at least eight of his hulking comrades cruelly:
DRAGGING four weedy rioters—all apparently in their early teens—off the street and behind the high walls of a secluded army compound,
BEATING them senseless with vicious blows from batons, boots and fists,
IGNORING their pitiful pleas for mercy, until the incident climaxes with what appears to be an NCO delivering a sickening full-force kick in the genitals of a cringeing lad pinned to the ground.
All the while the callous cameraman delivers a stomach-churning commentary urging his mates on, cackling with laughter and screaming: "Oh yes! Oh yes! You're gonna get it. Yes, naughty little boys! You little f***ers, you little f***ers. DIE! Ha, ha!"
The video—later shown to the corporal's pals at their home base in Europe—was exposed to the News of the World by a disgusted whistleblower.
He told us the unit and regiment involved but for security reasons we are not publishing the details.
Our informant said: "These Iraqis were just kids. Most haven't even got shoes on.
"Those eight soldiers were pumped up and out of control. They're an insult to the thousands of soldiers who have worked so hard in Iraq with courage and dignity for so long.
"They're nothing but a gang of thugs, a disgrace to themselves, their regiment and country."
The cowardly beating is believed to have taken place in early 2004 amid a series of street riots in southern Iraq. Troops were involved in running battles with hundreds of screaming demonstrators armed with stones, sticks, shovels and home-made grenades.
The atmosphere and tension comes across vividly in the video, believed to have been shot from a rooftop within the troops' HQ compound. The muzzle of an Army SA80 rifle laid on its side is visible in the foreground.
A DIY grenade lands and explodes inside the compound—blasting out shrapnel and a cloud of grey-white smoke. A fire blazes just outside the perimeter wall sending up a pall of black fumes as crowds of rioters chant abuse at the soldiers. Dozens of youths run towards the compound hurling stones, but suddenly turn on their heels—chased by a unit of squaddies in combat helmets with riot visors and desert camouflage. Some of the soldiers are wearing flak vests and are armed with batons and rifles.
A crackling radio message to the troops pinpoints a target: "Black top, blue bottoms! Black top, blue bottoms! GO!"
The camera then cuts to eight soldiers returning with four prisoners, gripped in headlocks. The squad march their captives to the compound gate and drag them inside—out of sight from the rioters outside. Then the horror begins.
PRISONER 1 is hauled in wearing a dark blue T-shirt, blue jeans and white trainers—the only victim not in bare feet.
His captor releases the headlock, stands him up and—with combat helmet on and visor down—lands a crushing head butt. He rips the youngster's T-shirt over his head and smashes his right fist twice into his kidneys and once into his head.
In panic the terrified captive desperately clings to the lanyard of the soldier's baton in an attempt to stop it being used on him.
His pitiful cries of "No! Please!" are clearly heard. But the mocking commentator merely puts on a childlike voice and mimics his Iraqi accent: "No, pleeese—don't hurt me."
Another soldier grabs the lad by the neck and hurls him to the floor to be kicked and beaten again. The head-butt soldier then raises his baton and brings it crashing down on him.
PRISONER 2, in blue T-shirt and grey trousers, is marched in, gripped by the shoulder. His captor forces him to the ground and hits him about the body and legs with his baton.
As he unleashes ten blows the boy twists and squirms around the soldier's ankles trying to save himself. A soldier in a floppy hat—not part of the snatch squad—looks on. He is clearly unsure of what to do but does not look alarmed or make any attempt to stop the beating.
Instead he helps fix plastic restraining ties on the lad's wrists. Another burly soldier, in desert camouflage and webbing belt with water bottle attached, strides up and whacks the Iraqi's backside with a baton. The prisoner's feet jerk in agony before he appears to pass out, a dark patch that looks like blood around his head. Meanwhile PRISONER 3, in white T-shirt and jeans, is booted in the back and body six times by two soldiers.
As he struggles on the floor one squaddie grabs him by the shoulder, kicks him twice and cracks him about the legs and bare feet with his baton.
PRISONER 4, barefoot in light blue T-shirt with beige trousers, is beaten before being picked bodily off the ground like a sack of potatoes, dumped on his chest and held with his arms up his back by two of the squad.
One soldier, identified by our source as a sergeant, walks up behind him and kicks him hard between the legs from behind.
The boy's body arches in pain and the soldier behind the camera is heard poking fun and groaning: "Oorrgghh!"
As another squad troop past and take no notice a soldier's voice is heard to scream: "In the f***ing head!"
The beating sequence on the video, which appears to be a series of excerpts from the incident, takes up 60 seconds of the 3minute 12second tape. Our investigators counted 42 separate blows but there were probably many more not caught on camera.
The video also has two other shocking sequences. In one, the camera approaches an Iraqi corpse while a soldier draws back a blanket to display it as a sickening trophy.
The cameraman then commits an act considered the ultimate insult to an Iraqi—and kicks the dead man twice in the face, humiliating him in death. As the head of the man, aged in his 20s, is lifted to face the lens a soldier sniggers: "He's been a bad mother****er."
Another scene shows an Iraqi man grabbed by three soldiers and forced to kneel behind a wall where he is kicked hard in the chest.
The video came to light following the unit's return home. Our source was horrified when he saw it and vowed the tape MUST be made public to force the army to clamp down on the abuse of prisoners—and protect the reputations of more than 80,000 dedicated British troops—including 101 killed and 230 injured—who have served in Iraq since the start of the second Gulf war.
He told us: "I'm sure those Iraqis weren't innocent little boys—I bet they'd all been slinging rocks and maybe even explosives. But that's no excuse for a beating like that.
"The ringleader was supposed to be a senior sergeant. Instead of reeling the lads in and calming them down, he was in the thick of it, urging them on. He even kicked that boy straight in the b***s with two other soldiers twice the lad's size holding him face down.
"That's sick. You could understand some terrified 19-year-old private losing it. But that's what NCOs are for—to lead and set an example."
Last night we handed our dossier of evidence to the Ministry of Defence. A Military Police investigation is now under way.
HANDFUL OF THUGS IN ARMY OF HEROES
By Chris Ryan
THIS appalling footage filled me with revulsion —and every professional British soldier would agree.
Seeing supposedly highly-trained troops beating defenceless teenagers to a pulp—and laughing about it in a brutal home video— made me sick to my stomach.
It is something I have never experienced in 20 years of soldiering—and something I hope never to see again.
This small group of men have at a stroke trashed the reputation of our forces around the globe.
The backlash may be fearsome. How can we ever win the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people if we behave like the brutal dictatorship we were sent to remove?
And how can they—or any other population that British troops are entrusted to protect—ever put their faith in us again?
I can only pray this is an isolated incident because it makes a mockery of all the good work and sacrifices our servicemen and women have made in Iraq.
Now they face months, if not years, of increased danger, rebuilding the damage this senseless minority has caused.
And it terrifies me that these men have become so de-sensitised that they can behave like this.
Make no mistake, this incident will be jumped upon by our enemy as a recruiting call for terrorists and will escalate hatred everywhere.
But there is no doubt in my mind that it must be exposed and stamped on, hard. It must never happen again. In the short term things will get a lot tougher for us—this could fuel the fires of insurgency in Iraq and around the world.
But long-term, exposing and stamping out this behaviour is the only way to regain respect and trust for the British Army.
These men must be drummed out, and quickly, before their behaviour can influence others.
I hesitate to call them soldiers —because their actions are so far removed from the exemplary standards we expect of our troops.
They have betrayed their comrades, their training and everything British forces have traditionally stood for—their overriding sense of duty and decency.
In the military we have something called Conduct After Capture—how you should behave if you've been captured and, more importantly, how you conduct yourself with enemy prisoners.
The Geneva Convention—which governs the actions of every single serving British soldier—makes it crystal clear that prisoners deserve humane treatment.
There was an outcry after the first Gulf War at the way Iraq treated our prisoners of war. No one can forget those pictures of our captured fliers, beaten and paraded on TV.
But how can we expect the Iraqis, or anyone else, to treat captured or kidnapped British troops and civilians with dignity now? These aren't even enemy combatants. Even in a hardened society like Iraq they're still children. There is no doubt Iraq is the most dangerous place on Earth right now. And peacekeeping missions are every bit as dangerous and stressful as open war. More British troops have died since the war ended than were killed in action.
In this case a few bad apples have clearly let things get out of hand.
Psychologically the pressure of seeing comrades and friends killed and injured has an enormous impact.
Things have been spiralling out of control in Iraq for some time.
As a young soldier serving out there you are dealing with fear on a daily basis. You don't know when you wake up if it could be your last day on Earth. Roadside bombs, snipers, suicide bombers—these are all daily occurrences. Soldiers are only human so tempers do fray, people get tired and angry. But nobody has the right to react like this—no matter what they've seen or done. That's when the training, discipline and good command should take over.
Here it's gone out of the window and the body language of these soldiers is terrifying because it's so calm and natural.
This was a textbook operation to snatch troublemakers from the crowd—until they enter the compound and the beating starts.
These guys are clearly relaxed—judging by the way they are behaving, they're not expecting to be shot at or bombed. In fact they're so casual it's chilling.
This is something I fear they've experienced before—and the cameraman certainly knows what's going to happen next. When the voiceover tells us, "You're going to get it", he knows what he is talking about. His comments are just sickening, almost sexual, as he revels in the beatings.
His job up there is to observe the crowd, passing information down to the guys on the ground. Instead he's making a home video for his own gratification.
It's a frenzy of gratuitous violence, pure and simple—the vilest and most destructive form of vengeance.
As other members of the team arrive back they stroll past with barely a glance. The clear implication is they've seen this before.
And while they might not be taking part they are as complicit as the men dishing out the beating.
When I was in the SAS during the first Gulf War the lads would go across the border in snatch squads.
But there were NEVER any beatings of PoWs. Even during the hostilities these guys were begging to come HOME with us. That's victory in the vital battle for hearts and minds. We'd won them over and we'd won their respect.
The only thing this horrifying video will win is condemnation from all right-thinking people.