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Defence Chief: We broke the rules

Danish soldiers illegally handed POWs over to the Iraqi authorities.

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Danish soldiers took more than twice as many prisoners in Iraq than has previously been announced – at least 500 Iraqis were detained by Danes in Iraq from 2003 onwards, according to a memorandum from Defence Chief Knud Bartels to Defence Minister Nick Hækkerup.

The memo says that ‘in a few cases’ Iraqi prisoners were illegally handed over to Iraqi authorities, and that in many cases Danish troops avoided defence directives by letting British troops detain Iraqis during joint missions in order to avoid responsibility.

Under Standing Orders, Danes were not permitted to hand prisoners over to the Iraqis because Iraq had the death penalty and there were reports that Iraqi prisoners were tortured.

The Defence Chief’s memo, which was sent to the parliamentary Defence Committee yesterday, seems to undermine previous answers by former defence ministers Søren Gade (Lib) and Gitte Lillelund Bech (Lib).

Prior to yesterday’s memo, the number of detained Iraqis was put at 200, and the defence forces have not previously confirmed that Danish soldiers handed Iraqis over to the Iraqi authorities.

Nor has the military previously admitted that Danish forces circumvented the rules by letting British soldiers detain locals during joint operations.

“The figure of 500 is considerably above the 200 previously put forward,” says Hækkerup, adding that the memorandum shows that there appears to have been a lack of management of the registration and monitoring of prisoners, that the rules on handovers seem not to have been followed and that British soldiers were used to detain Iraqis in order to avoid Danish responsibility.

Former Defence Chief Jesper Helsø says: “I see no reason to doubt the defence chief’s report. I have no idea how the figure of 500 detainees has been arrived at. But it depends on how you define ‘detained’,” Helsø says.

“This shows again that from A to Z there was something rotten about that war, and it is probably no coincidence that we’re only hearing about it now,” says Social Liberal Defence Spokeswoman Zenia Stampe.

The current centre-left government said when it took office that Denmark’s part in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were to be studied by a Commission of Inquiry to be set up next year.

“It must be clear to everyone, including the previous government, that such a commission is necessary,” says Defence Minister Nick Hækkerup.

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